Motherwell 2 Dundee United 2: Wilkie keeps United dreaming of Europe

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The Independent Football

Lee Wilkie gave Dundee United European lifeline yesterday by snatching the late equaliser that maintains their ambition of playing in the Uefa Cup next season. Craig Levein's side were on the verge of falling four points behind Motherwell in the race for third place until Wilkie rose in the 86th minute to plant a header into the net after Danny Grainger's long throw-in was glanced on by Darren Dods.

Motherwell were poised to profit from their predatory striker Chris Porter, whose two goals arrived on either side of an own goal from his captain, Stephen Craigan, but this result keeps the three-way race for Europe, with Hibernian also involved, going as the campaign enters the final month.

United almost swept their hosts off the rutted pitch with intense pressure early on. Willo Flood set the tone with a venomous 25-yard shot that was acrobatically touched over the bar by Graeme Smith, and then Jon Daly's volley scared Motherwell. Flood should have brokenthe deadlock when he seized on a mistake, but he drilled the ball wide. That profligacy was swiftlypunished. David Clarkson's flick found Stephen Hughes and his fine cross was headed past Lukasz Zaluska by Porter.

Flood almost restored parity with a curling free-kick, but gradually Motherwell imposed themselves on the game and almost netted again with a low free-kick from Bob Malcolm. Despite a header just wide of the target from Wilkie, United were enduring the worst period of the encounter when they too scored against the run of play.

A teasing cross by Morgaro Gomis in stoppage time was headed back across the face of goal by Noel Hunt, and Craigan misjudged his clearing header because of the wind and the pressure from Daly, planting it into the roof of his own net.

It took Porter just five minutes of the second half to restore Motherwell's lead, though. Ross McCormack whipped in a wicked free-kick to the back post and Porter finished it off with his head.

Motherwell ought to have finished off their visitors before Wilkie's late equaliser. Remarkably, the hosts could still have won when they exposed Unitedin a counterattack but, with the goal at his mercy, Simon Lappin shot wide.