Dundee United and Hamilton drew a blank in a controversial Premiership play-off final first leg at Tannadice.
A draw was probably a fair result, but United were left furious after they were denied a clear second half penalty and lost Simon Murray to a red card when referee Steven McLean booked him twice for diving.
The one that led to the striker’s early path was shown by replays to be a clear foul by Hamilton’s Scott McMann. The one consolation for the Tangerines is that they can appeal the decision, meaning he will be able to play in Sunday’s second leg at New Douglas Park.
United went with the same eleven who started last week’s semi-final victory over Falkirk, but there was a place on the bench for Lewis Toshney who had not been expected to make any of the play-off action because of a dislocated shoulder.
After a frantic start, Accies created the first opening when Rakish Bingham capitalised on a Wato Kuate error and broke down the right before crossing. The ball reached Daniel Redmond in the middle, but he fluffed his shot and home ‘keeper Cammy Bell was able to gather.
When Kuate lost possession again, David Templeton fed Bingham and his low shot was blocked by Bell. It was a fine save but the Accies man must have felt he should have scored.
United’s first opportunity came when Simon Murray broke down the left, then cut inside before shooting low from the edge of the area. Remi Matthews in the Hamilton goal saved well at his near post.
They threatened again when Mark Durnan got his head to a long throw by Sean Dillon. The ball dropped to Tony Andreu, but he skied his shot way over the bar. It was 100 mph stuff and when Paul Dixon crossed from the left, Matthews did well to save under pressure from Thomas Mikkelsen and Murray.
Just after the half hour mark there was controversy when Murray went down in the Hamilton box as he was tackled by Massimo Donati. The home players and fans howled for a penalty, but referee McLean was having none of it and as well as waving the appeals away, rubbed salt into home wounds by booking Murray for diving.
When Accies won a free-kick 25 yards from the home goal, Darian MacKinnon wasted a good position by sending a tame shot a couple of yards wide of the target.
Early in the second period Redmond tried to send Bingham clear, but Bell was quick to spot the danger and came from his line to gather.
United replied through Murray and although his deflected shot won a corner, he passed up a great opportunity to send Spittal in on goal. They kept the pressure up via a couple of corners, but when Andreu tried an overhead kick from the edge of the area, the ball floated well wide.
At the other end a deflected Templeton shot rolled inches wide with Bell looking beaten. Before the corner could be taken referee McLean had to step in to calm an argument between home pair Dillon and Kuate. The midfielder was in bother again when he was replaced by Charlie Telfer on 56 minutes and headed straight for the tunnel, much to the annoyance of his team-mates.
Telfer made an immediate impact and when he sent over a corner from the right, a Mikkelsen header was clawed away by Matthews. It was the closest either side had come to scoring. There was another close thing when Durnan sent a shot just over from an Andreu knock down.
Then Accies went close. Redmond crossed from the right and Dougie Imrie got a touch at the back post, but couldn’t steer his effort on target.
Despite that escape, United were having a good spell. Good possession was wasted, however, when Durnan shot wide from all of 30 yards when he had several options for a pass. That moment of madness apart, the big defender was having a fine game.
It was end to end stuff and when Greg Docherty chipped the ball across the face of the United goal, Crawford should have done better than hook his shot over the bar.
Disaster struck for United in the 77th minute when Murray again went down in the Hamilton box and for the second time in the game he was shown yellow for diving. The obligatory red card soon followed and the in-form striker was off.
It was a bad mistake and it appeared the decision was made by assistant Graham Chambers. TV replays clearly showed Murray was fouled by McMann and United should have had a spot kick.
Down to ten men, Ray McKinnon’s men did well to play out time for a deserved draw and there will be all to play for on Sunday.