Rangers secured their first victory top-flight victory since 2012 with a performance that served to underline why so many are finding it difficult to forecast how they will do this season.
Are they potential champions or do they still need longer to acclimatise to the Premiership after their ascent through the leagues? The visitors should have been three goals to the good by half-time, at least. Instead, by shortly into the second half, they were ahead by only one and could count themselves fortunate they were not defending this slender lead with ten men.
Harry Forrester packed a lot into his 67 minutes on the field. He scored the game’s opener and then sailed so close to the wind after three poor challenges in the space of 20 second-half minutes, the first of which saw him booked, that he was quickly substituted.
Kenny Miller, too, was a central figure. He scored his first Scottish top flight goal for six years six minutes before half-time and could have put the game beyond doubt when sent through by Barrie McKay just three minutes later.
The miss threatened to prove costly after Mark O’Hara’s header for Dundee after 43 minutes gave the hosts a lifeline.
If this is what life is like post Greg Stewart for Dundee, then the way they began the game yesterday does not augur particularly well. Rangers, frustrated by Hamilton Accies at home last week, found the going rather easier at first at Dens Park, a ground where they haven’t lost since 1992.
Dundee should have been dead and buried by half-time. Somehow, following a performance that combined timidity with a general incompetence, the home side trailed by just a single goal after O’Hara’s header two minutes before the interval. The impressive midfielder rose unchallenged on the edge of the six-yard box to meet Danny Williams’ corner, won on a rare foray forward from Dundee, and head into the net.
Prior to this, Rangers had threatened to run amok. Like against Dundee in the Scottish Cup in March, Forrester was the architect of their misery. But illustrating how the game changed beyond recognition after the interval, he might well have blotted his copybook with a red card. Indeed, he probably should have.To be fair, neither Dundee skipper Darren O’Dea, who was up-ended by Forrester shortly after half time, or manager Paul Hartley dwelt on the matter afterwards. Forrester rather injudiciously dived into a challenge on Cammy Kerr minutes after being booked for the tackle on O’Dea.
Having escaped a further punishment from referee Craig Thomson for that, he ploughed into Michael Duffy, the Dundee midfielder, in a challenge that some interpreted as the worst of the lot. Not Thomson, however. Forrester was quickly withdrawn for Michael O’Halloran and Rangers played out the game with 11 players.
In the Scottish Cup tie last season, Forrester needed only 14 seconds to spear Dundee. This time Dundee heeded Hartley’s plea to keep things tight early on. They made it to the 14th minute before Forrester claimed he opener after a catalogue of defensive errors by Dundee.
The pitch was immaculate, so excuses there were few. “Too immaculate for Dundee,” someone suggested. It was true to an extent.
So error strewn and devoid of ambition was their first-half performance the players should be sending an apology note to the Dens groundsman this morning. Their play was certainly not befitting of the turf he’d prepared.
Dundee were being exposed in the full-back areas, as at Ibrox just a few months ago. Forrester took full advantage of soft defending by Kerr to pounce on a loose ball and send a half-volley high into the net beyond Scott Bain. He then headed over from a James Tavernier cross as Rangers looked like they were set to run riot, with Jordan Rossiter catching the eye in midfield.
The rampaging Lee Wallace got beyond the Dundee backline again to cut back for Miller, whose finish into the net at Bain’s near post was helped by the goalkeeper’s view being blocked by several bodies.
But O’Hara’s goal gave Dundee hope to cherish throughout the interval and then sustain them in the second half as they hunted for an equaliser, aided by the introduction of strikers Faissal El Bakhtaoui and Yordi Teijsse.
But an equaliser refused to come and Dundee were left to rue a bewilderingly poor first-half performance.