Dundee United were denied a vital victory despite a good performance against second-placed Falkirk at Tannadice where they were left to rue a string of missed chances. After looking the better side for much of the game, a Simon Murray goal looked to have given United the points.
But Falkirk finished strongly and left the Tangerines clinging on towards the end of the game.
By Michael Blackley
Manager Ray McKinnon handed a debut to 19-year-old midfielder Scott Allardice, while Blair Spittal returned to the starting line-up, and Jamie Robson returned at left back. Charlie Telfer and Paul Dixon dropped down to the bench and Ali Coote missed out entirely.
After 10 minutes of both teams feeling their way into the game, United had a glorious opportunity to take the lead when Falkirk skipper Peter Grant inexplicably stumbled on the ball under no pressure in his own box, with Simon Murray racing in on goal and teeing up Thomas Mikkelsen, only for the Dane to react to slowly and allow Aaron Muirhead to get the ball away.
United soon had another golden chance from another Falkirk mistake when Luca Gasparatto failed to intercept a long ball forward, allowing Murray to race clear on goal only to knock his effort just wide of the post.
Cammy Bell was then tested for the first time when he needed to be alert to parry away a powerful left-footed effort from John Baird after he was neatly set up by Tom Taiwo.
Murray cross headed behind Gasparatto.
Just after the half hour, Bob McHugh hit a powerful long-range effort which Bell held comfortably.
With 10 minutes until half time, United came close again when Blair Spittal played a fantastic ball in from the right only for Tony Andreu to put his free header wide of the post. At the other end, a long range effort was deflected behind and, from the resultant corner, McHugh timed his jump perfectly and got a powerful header in which Bell did well to save low at his left post.
Falkirk threatened again from a corner from the right which found Grant in space in the box only for his effort to spin wide of the post.
As referee Euan Anderson brought the half to an end United will have felt they should have gone in ahead, having created three glorious chances but failed to take them.
Five minutes into the second half, United finally did take their chance when Mikkelsen played in Murray, who showed some electric pace to get in behind the defence then stayed calm under pressure by coolly slotting home behind Thomson.
Only a few minutes later, Murray nearly doubled United’s advantage when he got on the end of a long ball forward and tried an exceptional half volley from the left edge of the box which beat the keeper but smacked off the post.
The home side were looking dangerous every time they went forward and were appealing for a penalty when Mikkelsen went down under a challenge from Kerr, only for the referee to wave it away.
Murray again threatened as the game entered the final 20 minutes. Tony Andreu chipped forward, and the striker took it down well but Grant managed to get in a vital touch to knock it behind for a corner.
Mark Durnan was the hero at the other end as he got a vital challenge in on Craig Sibbald after he was set up by a tremendous cross from the right.
United then had a few efforts in quick succession, with William Edjenguele getting a header from an Andreu corner on target only for Thomson to save. Then Murray turned creator by finding Andreu after good footwork and the Frenchman curled in an effort which had to be parried behind from Thomson. Andreu then nearly created something from nothing by turning 25 yards out and trying an audacious effort which beat the keeper but went just wide of the keeper’s right hand post.
However, Falkirk found an equaliser from nowhere with seven minutes to go – and could have gone on to win the game.
The equaliser came when substitute James Craigen fired in a perfect cross from the right and Luke Leahy found himself in plenty of space to fire a bullet header beyond Bell.
Falkirk nearly snatched a winner with in the last minute when Austin was sent through one-on-one with Bell but the keeper did well to get down and snatch the ball away from him.
The Bairns threatened again and a Sibbald cross was stabbed off the post from close range by Shepherd, as United nearly lost a game they should have put beyond doubt.
However, Arabs will have been encouraged by a much improved performance, where they managed to create a hatful of opportunities, only to be foiled by a combination of bad luck and poor finishing.
Man of the match: Simon Murray. The striker should have scored in the first half but didn’t let his head go down and was a constant thorn in the side of the Falkirk defenders. Took his goal brilliantly and was so unlucky not to add a second with a wonderful half volley. Also linked up well with Mikkelsen and Andreu in a dangerous United forward line.
UNITED: Bell; Murdoch, Robson, Edjenguele, Durnan; Flood, Allardice (Telfer, 77); Spittal (Nicholls, 69); Andreu; Murray; Mikkelsen.
Subs not used: Zwick, Dixon, Toshney, Kuate, Van der Velden.
FALKIRK: Thomson; Muirhead, Leahy, Grant, Gasparatto; Kerr, Sibbald, Taiwo, Hippolyte (Craigen, 62); Baird (Shepherd, 68)), McHugh (Austin, 62)
Subs not used: McMinn, McCracken, O’Hara, Aird
Referee: Euan Anderson