A late Steven Mackay goal stopped Formartine from heading to the top of the table after a closely contested affair at North Lodge Park.
A draw left Brora still at the summit with 75 points after 30 games played. Formartine are up to second on goal difference with 73 points from 29 matches after Cove’s fixture at Fort William was postponed.
Cove stay on 73 points, but with only 28 games played. This result sets up a huge game at Harlaw Park a week on Wednesday, when Cove host Formartine, which to many people’s reckoning may decide the title.
Against the reigning champions, United opened the scoring mid-way through the first half after Scott Barbour’s sliding effort and the hosts doubled their lead 10 minutes later through Graeme Rodger, who fired a shot past visiting keeper Steve Martin.
Brora came out for the second half a different animal and got a goal back five minutes after the restart through Grant Munro.
The away side equalised mid-way through the half thanks to a goal from Zander Sutherland. Against the run of play Garry Wood scored for the home side to regain their lead. However Mackay deflected in a drive from Gavin Morrison to save a point for Brora.
Formartine were struck with an early blow after keeper Andy Reid was bothered by a rib injury in the warm-up and they had to rely on Ewan MacDonald in goal, who had only previously played one game in the Highland League.
United were also missing the experienced Paul Lawson, who was a fitness doubt for the match and whom the management chose not to risk.
Brora were without John Macleod through illness and keeper Joe Malin, who picked up an injury the last time the two sides met in the Highland League Cup. In that tie earlier this month, the Cattachs won on penalties after a thrilling 5-5 draw.
Both teams were very evenly matched in the early stages. However, it was the home side that took the lead 20 minutes in when Stuart Anderson’s effort from the edge of the box was well saved by Martin down to his right. He got up again to deny Wood, however the goalie couldn’t keep out the third attempt from Barbour, who slid from the side of the six-yard-box and directed the ball into the top right corner to open the scoring.
Only a minute later, Brora's Martin Maclean struck a drive off the junction of post and crossbar from 35 yards out. Maclean then hit an effort which was heading for the net, but Anderson had other ideas and directed the ball out for a corner which led to nothing.
Despite the two opportunities for Brora, United deservedly doubled their lead mid-way through the first half when Wood’s cross was intercepted by a visiting defender. The deflection only found Rodger, who rifled a shot into the top left corner of the net from just inside the penalty area.
Going into the half-time break Formartine held a deserved two-goal lead after restricting Brora to long shots and really frustrating the visitors.
The Cattachs got a goal back five minutes after the break when Sutherland’s corner was met by experienced centre-half Munro, who sent a header over the stranded MacDonald to give the visitors hope.
Mid-way through the second half Rangers found themselves on a counter attack and Andrew Greig squared the ball across to Paul Brindle who tapped it in to the net. However the linesman’s flag was up.
Only a minute, after a very similar chance, this time Greig cut the ball back to the onside Sutherland, who tucked it calmly under MacDonald and put the game in the balance.
Minutes after the equaliser Brora had a strong penalty claim when the ball appeared to strike Johnny Crawford’s hand, but referee Graham Fraser did not award a spot-kick.
The away side didn’t let their heads drop following the decision and had a great chance minutes later, but MacDonald was sharp and quick at the feet of Brindle to prevent him from putting his team ahead.
Slightly against the run of play, with 15 minutes to go, Formartine regained their lead after Rodger’s cross found Wood 10 yards out and his looping header went over Martin and in off the crossbar.
However, Formartine’s dream of winning the game was shattered when Morrison’s effort from 20 yards out was turned in by the substitute Mackay, whose contact took the ball away from MacDonald with around five minutes left on the clock.
Formartine had a late penalty claim after Neil Gauld’s header struck the arm of Ally MacDonald but the referee ruled the contact was unintentional.