CELTIC and Dundee United will meet for a fourth time in a fortnight to decide who will face Inverness or Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup semis after a hugely controversial quarter-final at Tannadice ended with honours even.
Three players were sent off and two penalties awarded by referee Craig Thomson in a dramatic contest between the two Scottish Premiership sides, who will also face off in next Sunday’s League Cup Final at Hampden Park.
Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk and United’s Paul Paton – mistakenly sent off instead of team-mate Calum Butcher – were dismissed after just 10 minutes following a major flashpoint which preceded a two-minute conversation between Thomson and his assistant referee Graham Chambers.
Nadir Ciftci – who could also have been sent off for studding Scott Brown in the same incident – netted from the spot in first-half stoppage time after Anthony Stokes was adjudged to have brought down Aidan Connolly.
Early in the second half, Paul Dixon was shown red for blocking Leigh Griffiths’ with his arm in the box but United goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak – who was man of the match for a string of splendid saves – kept out Griffiths’ spotkick magnificently.
The striker though made amends to rescue Ronny Deila’s side 20 minutes from time when nodding home an Emilio Izaguirre cross.
Despite being unable to capitalise on having an extra man for a lenghty period of time, the replay – set to be played a week on Wednesday at Parkhead – means Celtic’s treble hopes remain alive.
Meanwhile, Jackie McNamara’s United – who were runners-up in last season’s competition – produced admirable rearguard action to hold out amid constant Hoops pressure for much of the second half.
Cierzniak had to be in top form with Celtic substitute John Guidetti denied on two occasions by the Polish stopper, who was also alert to thwart efforts from Stokes and Griffiths.
Ciftci was only playing after winning his appeal against a two-match suspension following his clash with Inverness defender Gary Warren last month and played his part in the melee which brought the tie to life in the early minutes.
Paton was one of the first on the scene as it broke out but when it calmed down, referee Thomson – after speaking to the linesman – dismissed Paton and van Dijk, leaving the United player fuming and everyone in the ground somewhat baffled.
That incident aside, the first half was largely a non-spectacle although both sides hit the post – Butcher’s effort brushing off Ryan Dow onto the woodwork before an equally tame shot from Stokes trickled the upright.
There was more controversy to come as United got their noses in front before the interval after Stokes was adjudged to have sent Connolly sprawling in the box and Ciftci buried his 12th of the season despite Craig Gordon diving in the right direction.
Celtic had a penalty of their own within three minutes of the restart and United were reduced to nine men as on-loan Huddersfield full-back Dixon received his marching orders for handling Griffiths’ shot – even though it did not seem to be deliberate.
United though were handed a reprieve when Cierzniak made a sensational stop from Griffiths, who raised an apologetic hand to the Celtic fans behind the goal.
His 10th goal of the season did arrive just when the Hoops seemed to be frustrated by the massed United ranks inside their own box as the Scot pulled away from Jaroslav Fojut to guide a header into the bottom corner.
Nir Biton and Stefan Johansen tried their luck as a dominant Celtic – seeking to put their midweek defeat at home to St Johnstone behind them – piled everything forward in search of a winner which ultimately proved elusive.
Although the ramifications of the contest will be felt in the coming days, it was a breathtaking opening episode to the series of meetings between the two sides – who locked horns for the first time since the acrimony of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven’s January deadline day moves to the champions although the duo were cup-tied.
Both will now turn their attention to the Hampden showpiece in seven days’ time before a midweek cup replay and a league encounter in Glasgow the following weekend.
Inverness and Raith Rovers will face each other on Tuesday night after their tie was called off on Saturday because of a waterlogged pitch in the Highlands.
Substitutes: Souttar (on for Connolly 51′), Erskine (on for Dow 64′)
Not used: Szromnik (GK), Telfer, Spittal, Bilate, Anier.
Booked: Ciftci (65), Butcher (78)
Sent-off: Paton (11), Dixon (48)
Goals: Ciftci (45+2 pen)
Substitutes: Guidetti (on for Stokes 64′), Scepovic (on for Griffiths 87′), Fisher (on for Bitton 90+3′)
Not used: Zaluska (GK), Wakaso, McGregor, Henderson.
Booked: Johansen (72)
Sent-off: van Dijk (11)
Missed penalty: Griffiths (49)
Goals: Griffiths (70)
Referee: Craig Thomson (Scotland) – 5/10