JUST like the last time these two sides met, the points were shared.

The similarities ended there, though, this encounter proving unable to replicate the corruscating drama of the 4-4 draw between the sides at Tannadice in December.

That game, combined with the Highlanders' thumping 4-0 win in September, suggested another goal glut was likely but instead fans were treated to an interesting contest but one lacking in both finesse and finishing.

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A point, ultimately, was of no great satisfaction to either side, even if positives could be derived from a clean sheet and the avoidance of defeat in a closely contested Clydedale Bank Premier League.

Their failure to earn three points means Inverness drop to third in the division, while United move above Aberdeen and in to eighth but were not able to make ground on any of their rivals in the race for a place in the upper half.

The visitors will reflect on one particular incident. With 12 minutes remaining, John Rankin's fierce strike scudded against Jon Daly and deceived Ryan Esson, the goalkeeper, allowing the ball to squirm from his grasp and pouncing upon it as it crept towards the goal. United howled that the ball had crossed the line and the home side suffered an anxious few moments before the match officials decided to play on.

"It looked from the angle I was at, that it was over the line," said Jackie McNamara, the United manager. "But the linesman hasn't given it and we just have to get on with it. From our point of view, it is disappointing because these wee things can be costly, particularly with the race for the top six and for second place is so tight. I thought we merited the three points."

In truth, neither team really deserved to take all the points from an even contest. At no stage did a repeat of the term's previous high-scoring games look likely, with the portents bleak from the opening few passages of play.

First, Aaron Doran badly miscued a cross from a promis-ing position, then Nick Ross did no better on the right flank, shanking into the stand as Inverness started brightly. Midfielder Owain Tudur Jones used his considerable height to outjump the United defence from a Doran corner, only to thump a header wide.

United, too, had glimpses at goal, even if injury forced the withdrawal of top scorer Johnny Russell before the first half had elapsed. Their best opening in that period fell to Daly, who should perhaps have done better with a back-post header that flew wide from Willo Flood's cross.

Inverness were no deadlier, though. The sharp and clever play of Andrew Shinnie, Ross and Doran behind Billy McKay were menacing from time to time but United, unusually given their travails this term, stood firm on the back foot. The visitors had to rely on Radoslaw Cierniak, though, to flip Andrew Shinnie's fierce 25-yard drive away.

Just before the hour, United spurned their best chance as another Daly header skewed over, but it was Inverness who consistently looked likeliest to break the deadlock with a fine exchange just after the hour showcasing the threat.

A three-man move was started and almost finished by Andrew Shinnie but again Cierzniak had the measure of the attacker's low strike. Soon after, Doran's turn of pace on the right created space for a floated cross but, once again, Andrew Shinnie was denied by the efforts of Cierniak.

"Neither team did enough in the final third, but I thought it was a cracking match," said Terry Butcher, the Inverness manager. "They are a good side and well-organised. We had to defend very well and I'm very pleased with the back four and pleased with the team – they put great effort into it and played good football at times. We made chances, but, unusually for us, couldn't convert them."