Football: Celtic squander chance to escape

Celtic 1 Dundee United 1
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The Independent Online
RANGERS are faltering, but neither Hearts nor Celtic appear willing to grasp with both hands the mantle of Scottish League title favourites. After Hearts were held at home by Kilmarnock on Saturday, the stage was set for Celtic to stride ahead if they could beat Dundee United. Yet they failed to convert supremacy into victory over a side they had beaten in their five previous meetings this season.

Kjell Olofsson's 74th-minute equaliser after Simon Donnelly had given the home side the lead in the first half left Celtic only two points ahead of Hearts and five in front of Rangers, who, as a result, cannot yet be discounted in their pursuit of a 10th successive title despite Saturday's defeat at Motherwell.

In dominating the first half, Celtic produced and contrived to pass up several chances even before Donnelly put them in front in the 27th minute. Henrik Larsson wasted a free header in the seventh minute and Harald Brattbakk sent a spectacular volley narrowly over the bar. The opening goal resulted from a wonderful piece of invention from Donnelly, who sent a first-time shot curling into the net with the outside of his foot after a cross from Morten Wieghorst was headed on by Brattbakk.

Celtic lost the initiative in the second half in the sense that despite dominating possession they failed to create many chances against a well- packed United defence. In turn, the visitors began to sense a growing unease among the home side and their supporters and took the opportunity to earn themselves a point.

Larsson had shot over the bar and Wieghorst had seen a superb effort palmed away by the goalkeeper before Craig Easton found Olofsson in space in the 74th minute and as the Celtic defence backed off the Swede rifled a powerful shot into the net.

Thereafter Celtic's search for a winning goal were tinged with more than a hint of desperation. The end result is that this title race, with eight games remaining, has still to be won and lost.

Goals: Donnelly (27) 1-0; Olofsson (74) 1-1.

Celtic (3-5-2): Gould; Boyd, Rieper, Stubbs (Annoni, 81); Donnelly, Burley, Lambert, Wieghorst (O'Donnell, 84), Mahe; Larsson, Brattbakk (Jackson, 75).

Dundee United (3-5-2): Dykstra; Skoldmark, Malpas, Perry; Zetterlund (McLaren, h-t), Bowman, Dolan, Easton, Pedersen; Winters (Duffy, 88), Olofsson.

Referee: M McCurry (Glasgow).

Bookings: Celtic: Mahe. Dundee United: Skoldmark, Pedersen, Bowman.

Man of the match: Malpas.

Attendance: 48,656.

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