THE mathematical study of chaos theory states seemingly random events are not only logical, but predictable.

Perhaps, then, it is possible to make sense of this riotous contest after all.

Doing so in the immediate aftermath of a coruscating 90 minutes during which the senses were scrambled was approaching impossible, the emotions of participants and fans so discombobulated that only fragments of coherence were evident amid the babble. Those in the Dundee United camp bemoaned a lingering discomfort defending crosses, while Inverness Caledonian Thistle's staff queried the award of a late penalty that denied them an astounding win, but that only scratched the surface of what went on at Tannadice on Saturday.

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As the hours passed and sobriety settled, the layers of this dizzying drama could be gradually peeled away to explain a contest as complex as it was captivating. The facts are simple: United roared in to a three-goal lead inside eight minutes, Inverness appearing in danger of being eviscerated until Billy McKay scored from consecutive corners to haul the visitors back in to the contest by the break, and added a penalty on the hour to draw his side level. Gary Warren's 86th-minute header looked to have won it for the Highland side before Jon Daly converted a stoppage-time penalty to recover a point for the hosts.

However, the context was less clear. How, for example, could a side with one defeat in their previous 16 games lose three goals in eight minutes? A glance at the table offers answers; Inverness are top scorers in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League but they have also now conceded more than anyone else. United had identified the full-back areas as vulnerable, so Rudi Skacel and Stuart Armstrong were tasked with drifting infield to cause confusion, Johnny Russell permitted to drop off the front to link play, and Willo Flood and John Rankin charged with shuttling the ball around at pace.

Peter Houston has seemed unsure how best to deploy Skacel, opting of late to permit him freedom to roam from the right even if that leaves full-back Keith Watson exposed, and the United manager was rewarded with a first goal in what was perhaps Skacel's best performance for the club. Flood, the erstwhile occupant of that position, has been excellent since moving centrally alongside Rankin – a player struggling to recapture his stellar form of last term – while Armstrong has seized the opportunity to showcase his talents on the left in the absence of Gary Mackay-Steven.

With a balance struck, it worked a treat for 20 minutes until Terry Butcher moved to address the disparity. At that stage, United's foibles came to the fore once again. The lack of a commanding centre-back has proved problematic all season, with Gavin Gunning's erratic performances proving infectious, and the hosts were dreadfully vulnerable in the air on Saturday. Two of Inverness' goals came from corners and another from a cross as the failure to win the first ball was punished mercilessly.

"We conceded two stupid goals," said left-back Barry Douglas. "I wouldn't say that we were lucky to get a point but we made it hard for ourselves the way we defended corners and crosses."

Both sides, then, are wrestling with defensive issues but both can rely upon a totemic striker; an explanation for the eight goals, perhaps. The qualities of Jon Daly are long established, the United captain scoring twice on Saturday after forcing the opener by diverting Douglas' delivery across goal, but McKay's credentials have become equally enhanced after an astonishing three-week spurt.

The Northern Irishman has now scored 10 times in six matches since his goal at Celtic Park in mid-November and gives the impression that he is incapable of missing at the moment. Indeed, one disallowed effort with the score at 3-2 – an angled volley across the goalkeeper from a tight angle – was the kind that a striker will convert once every couple of seasons.

"With Billy in the team, we always feel that we have a chance," said centre-back Warren. "Quite often teams throw in the towel when they go that far behind but because we conceded so early, and Billy got a couple of goals before half-time, we always felt that we could get something."

After eight minutes, such a statement might have appeared ridiculous but, then, even the most outlandish outcomes can be explained with logic.