This was thoroughly entertaining for the neutral and utterly frustrating for most of the 59,558 souls inside Parkhead as Celtic flattered to deceive in the first half and ceded a two-goal lead to pass up a golden opportunity to move 10 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League.
For the best part of an hour, the hosts were firmly in control, with Scott Brown at the heart of their most productive moments and Georgios Samaras in the right place at the right time to score twice.
The Greek striker put Celtic 1-0 up in the 12th minute after a pull-back from Brown on the byline, and then extended the lead just before the hour after bundling home a free kick pounded in from the left by the Japanese playmaker, Shunsuke Nakamura.
Yet within two minutes, a crude foul by the Celtic captain Stephen McManus on Dundee United's Garry Kenneth handed the visitors the lifeline of a free kick in a dangerous area, and Paul Dixon duly curled home for 2-1. Then with Celtic unsettled and United pressing, a route one counterattack led to the equaliser.
A long punt was flicked forward by Jon Daly to Warren Feeney, who tucked the ball past the Celtic goalkeeper, Artur Boruc.
"It was a hard game, as I thought it would be,"� said Celtic's manager, Gordon Strachan. "In the first half I was quite happy. If we can regret anything, it was not taking chances. At 2-0 we should have played more common sense football and passed the ball better. We didn't."
Asked if he felt disappointed at dropping points at home for a second consecutive game, Strachan was as waspish as ever. He said it would hurt more if his side were trailing by eight points in the table. That is the precise margin, of course, by which they are leading their Old Firm rivals after this draw. Rangers play at Inverness at lunchtime.
United's manager, Craig Levein, said a draw was acceptable, and added he had been concerned his side might have lost even after coming back from 2-0 down. "We were so excited at that stage, charging forward, and I was worried we might concede."
This result was not as unexpected as the pre-match odds suggested, stacked heavily in Celtic's favour as they were. United have now lost just one of their last 18 matches in all competitions, and have earned four draws against the Old Firm teams already this season. They deserve their current position as Scotland's third best team, and if Levein will have his club's resolve tested in the transfer window, he will not be alone.
Celtic, too, can expect interest, in Brown at least. Portsmouth have had him scouted at least three times, including in last weekend's Old Firm match, when Brown played well and Celtic won 1-0.
Reports suggest Pompey might make an offer as high as £9million. Whether the south coast club can afford that kind of fee in their parlous financial state remains to be seen, but it is understood they are not alone in tracking the player.
Tottenham have also been alerted to Brown's abilities and potential and he is on Harry Redknapp's radar, although no move will be made until Spurs's top target, Jermain Defoe, has been signed from Portsmouth.
While Brown faded in the latter stages of the match yesterday, he did enough inside the first hour to show why he is attracting attention from the Premier League.
He supplied Nakamura with a breakout ball to start one early move that ended with Samaras chipping just over the left upright. He also supplied Samaras for the opener after persistence down the left, and had a shot cleared off the line by Dixon at 2-1.
United too had a chance cleared from the line at 2-1, by McManus from Feeney's shot after Barry Robson's sloppy back-pass. United did not need to wait long for another chance, taken by Feeney for parity.Reuse content