ANGE Postecoglou had been left asking if he had “walked under a ladder” during the Premier Sports Cup quarter-final against Raith Rovers at Parkhead on Thursday night when his new signing Giorgos Giakoumakis had suffered a calf strain as he warmed up pitchside.

The Celtic manager must have wondered if he had broken a mirror, hung a horseshoe upside down and spilled a salt cellar yesterday.

His side were held to a draw at home by Dundee United for the first time in eight years despite David Turnbull, Tom Rogic and Jota all hitting the crossbar - and now trail cinch Premiership leaders Rangers by six points as a result. 

As if that was not bad enough, Postecoglou’s injury list lengthened as first full-back Josip Juranovic and then central midfielder James McCarthy limped off. They joined James Forrest, Kyogo Furuhashi, Giakoumakis, Mikey Johnston, Christopher Jullien, Callum McGregor and Greg Taylor on the treatment table.  

With a hugely important Europa League group game against Bayer Leverkusen, German rivals who moved into second spot in the Bundesliga on Saturday with a home win over Mainz, looming on Thursday evening it was the last thing the Greek-Australian coach needed.

But the draw with United – who were denied what their manager Tam Courts described as a “stonewall penalty” in the first-half after his striker Nicky Clark went to ground following a challenge by Cameron Carter-Vickers in the Celtic area – had nothing to do with bad luck.

Celtic still had, despite their absentees, more than enough talent on the field to win the league game and win it comfortably. They paid the price for their profligate finishing and disorganised defending.

However, the real problem that Postecoglou has in the centre of the park. The lack of physicality and nous in that crucial area of the park at the moment in the absence of McGregor is striking.

Republic of Ireland internationalist McCarthy had enjoyed his best game since joining his boyhood heroes in the cup triumph in midweek. He was fouled early on by Jeando Fuchs yesterday, was flat thereafter and failed to reappear for the second-half. His replacement Ismaila Soro struggled to influence proceedings.

Turnbull and Rogic pose a threat going forward. But neither man performs the vital role their captain does breaking up opposition attacks and distributing the ball just in front of a rearguard which has hardly played together. The team is failing to function properly as a direct result. It is hard to see what the solution is. Leverkusen could easily take advantage and run riot.   

Both Liel Abada and Jota produced impressive displays from kick-off to the final whistle. The wingers converted and created the opening goal in the 16th minute. Many inside the packed stadium expected Celtic to ease to a comfortable win after they had taken the lead. But their opponents had other ideas. 

Injuries ruled Charlie Mulgrew and Marc McNulty out and their places in the United side at centre half and attack respectively were taken by Kerr Smith – who is all of 16 years or age – and Ilmari Niskanen.

Niskanen did superbly to set up the equaliser just two minutes after the visitors had fallen behind. He showed great tenacity to outmuscle Anthony Ralston wide on the left flank and then picked out Ian Harkes with a cross. His team mate had partially to blame for the opener. But he atoned for his earlier error by heading beyond Joe Hart.

It was a well-worked goal. Postecoglou, though, will have been concerned about the space the scorer was afforded by Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt. His centre backs failed to get close to the midfielder. Were they even aware he was there? It was nowhere near good enough.

Carter-Vickers and Starfelt were nearly to blame for Celtic falling behind moments later. Peter Pawlett pinched the ball off the latter on the edge of the Celtic penalty and then the former appeared to barge Clark over inside his area. Referee Kevin Clancy was unimpressed with the appeals for a spot kick. It would not have been a soft award if he had given it.

Postecoglou’s players pushed hard for another goal after half-time. For all the pressure they applied, though, they were unable to seriously test United keeper Benjamin Siegrist. Their forwards took the wrong option or misplaced the crucial final pass whenever they got into the final third of the pitch. Rogic and Jota both hit the woodwork in the closing stages.

United, trying to get a result in the East End of Glasgow for the first time since the November of 2013, broke forward on the counter attack on several occasions. Substitute Louis Appere came on and had two chances at the death to clinch a famous win. The first was well saved by Hart, the second was squandered.

That Courts, whose team remaining a point above their hosts in the table, was frustrated that his team had failed to return home with all three points told a story. His charges grew in confidence after drawing level. Yes, they rode their luck at times. But nobody inside the ground could begrudge them the draw at the end of the 90 minutes.

The performance and result augur well for them going forward. It is hard to know what the future holds for Celtic. They were booed by their own fans when Clancy brought an end to proceedings. Postecoglou needs to halt a dire run of form  or the pressure on him will mount.