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Inverness Caledonian Thistle 1 Dundee United 1: Hampden provides the last port for European passage

THERE is still the small matter of a Scottish Cup final with which Dundee United can book passage to the adventures of the Europa League qualifiers.

Some might say hopes of a league route into continental action effectively died in Inverness - themselves now out of the running - with six points now separating Motherwell from the Tannadice club and matches against the top two teams in the country to come.

Farid El Alagui, scorer of the vital, if controversial equaliser in Inverness, is more of a glass half full man than that, however, despite the need to beat both Aberdeen and Celtic in the coming week. The Algerian player's finish means, with United's superior goal difference, they could still finish third with two wins, starting with Tuesday's New Firm clash at home.

"It is going to be tough, but we keep believing. Aberdeen and Celtic will try to play a bit more and that may suit our style," the 28-year-old Brentford loanee said.

"I feel we can take six points from those two games. We have played Aberdeen and Celtic before and we know what we have to do to beat them."

Yet the unpalatable truth is that United were poor for 45 minutes, despite the hosts being without regular centre halves Josh Meekings and Gary Warren through injury.

Manager John Hughes restored Danny Devine as a result, also drawing Carl Tremarco into central defence. Ryan Christie was among those earning a start and was to make a big impression.

For all their shuffling and deploying players out of position, Inverness quickly stamped their authority on the game, taking a seventh-minute lead. Greg Tansey swept a long, pin-point pass across to Watkins on the right flank. The Caley Thistle wide man controlled and speared a perfect cross into the six-yard box where Christie rose to head past Cierzniak with ease.

It might have been two six minutes later, when an eye-catching burst of quick-passing almost carved United open again. Greg Tansey and Billy Mckay linked before Ryan Christie's pass pierced the United defence. Mckay surged through, but Gavin Gunning made the tackle and cleared the danger.

No doubt chastised at the break, United were instantly brighter in the early part of the second period. After 54 minutes, they went close with Nadir Ciftci dropping deep and flicking through a pass to John Rankin, who immediately released substitute Graham.

The United striker's eight-yard shot lacked venom, though, and Dean Brill smothered down low. The aerial threat of substitute El Alagui and Graham eventually paid off, though. With 19 minutes left, Paul Paton's free kick delivery sparked danger in a crowded home box and, after a spot of aerial pinball, El Alagui forced the ball past Brill.

Brill remained adamant afterwards he had been infringed. "I felt my arm was impeded which, to me, is the same as a trip on an outfield player. An arm, for a keeper, is the same as a player's foot. If I trip him as he goes to shoot, it's a foul and a penalty. I think, nine times out of 10 you make the save in that situation.

"We are protected goalkeepers, as a species, but in certain circumstances maybe it needs to be understood a little bit more."

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