IT TURNED ugly at Tannadice yesterday. And that had nothing to do with any enmity spilling over from the build-up to a Scottish Cup tie that was fuelled by Rangers backing their fans’ boycott or the United fans threatening to wear Craig Whyte masks (very few actually did).
Scorers: Dundee United - Russell (1, 79), Daly (36)
Bookings: Dundee United - Gunning; Rangers - Cribari, Wallace, Hutton, Black (sent off), Naismith (sent off), Shiels
The mask really has slipped to reveal Rangers as a Third Division team with a ridiculous wage bill.
For all that he played the diplomat afterwards, Jackie McNamara’s first match in charge of the Tannadice club, from the 15th second when double-scorer Johnny Russell made it 1-0, was a straightforward swatting of an inept lower division opponent.
Rangers supporters insist they are the same club post-liquidation. On the evidence of such a gulf between what they were not so long ago and what they are now, you wonder why they don’t want to create distance. Their team do that on the park, and lagged miles behind a sharp, energised home team, with the most notable contributions the straight red card to Kal Naismith for a horrible lunge on Willo Flood late on and the dismissal that quickly followed for Ian Black, who could have had two yellows long before he inevitably did. Rangers manager Ally McCoist admitted Black, who gestured as if to pick up the corner flag and spear it towards the United supporters as he walked off, “didn’t do his team or himself any favours” with his approach.
The entire Rangers selection, and the man who has assembled them, didn’t do themselves any favours. Rangers have a £7 million wage bill – double that of United – precisely to be competitive in cup ties such as yesterday’s, even if their manager now prefers to say winning a league they simply couldn’t fail to win is their focus. That isn’t why Dean Shiels, David Templeton, Francisco Sandaza and Black were brought to the club.
“It was poor. Our bigger SPL players should have done better today,” McCoist acknowledged. “It was a disappointing day for the ones who have more experience and we would have looked at doing better. We are looking for them all to contribute. I said to them before the game we wanted a performance individually and collectively. When criticism is due, believe me, they get it and they got it today. After the game some of the players got it individually.
“The flipside of the coin is that Dundee United have beaten us in the cup twice in the last three years when we’ve had Steven Whittaker, Nikica Jelavic, Steven Davis and all these guys. I won’t underestimate the disappointment but I won’t go crazy on it either.” McCoist, to his credit, stressed the boycott by a Rangers support he said were missed was not a “factor” in the outcome.
McNamara, meanwhile, said he had impressed on his players the importance of discipline but was quick to quash any suggestion that factor was decisive. “I think ability is the factor that won it for us,” he said. “Russell, [Gary] Mackay-Steven and [Jon] Daly are all good players who can score goals. The quality of those three especially [was decisive] and I thought Willo Flood covered every blade of grass for us.”
The start to his United tenure was the stuff of make believe for McNamara, and could-not-believe-it for his Rangers’ counterpart. Emilson Cribari and Ross Perry appeared to collide as they challenged Daly for a Gavin Gunning forward punt, allowing the Irishman to nod on to the path of Russell who lashed an effort towards goal that Neil Alexander could only divert into his own net. “Very poor,” McCoist said. The defending for United’s 35th-minute second – which followed Russell flicking the bar – wasn’t even as good as that.
The Rangers centre-backs seemed to stage their own boycott when Flood floated a free-kick in from the right. They refused to follow Daly, allowing him to back-flick the ball past Alexander. At that stage, it appeared as if Rangers could be on the wrong end of the sort of scoreline cup mismatches can often produce.
But it didn’t happen, with the visitors stabilising after the break as United simply stopped pressing and pressurising. McNamara, pictured left, credited the retention of possession by Rangers as the reason, but Russell was still able to make the scoreline more reflective in sleekly fastening on to a Daly prod through and producing a measured finish with the outside of his left foot.
The striker, who stated he “didn’t have a clue” about a £400,000 transfer deadline bid from Huddersfield until after his club decided “it wasn’t what they wanted and rejected it”, didn’t concur that the potency of the victory had been diluted by Rangers’ diminution. “It is still a massive game,” he said. “It feels just as good as if they were in the SPL.”
Perhaps Rangers should consider themselves fortunate it will be at least two-and-a-half years before they do reach the top flight.
Dundee Utd: Cierzniak, Watson, Dillon, Gunning, Douglas, Armstrong, Flood, Rankin, Mackay-Steven, Russell, Daly. Subs: Banks, McLean, Ryan, Millar, Gardyne.
Rangers: Alexander, Faure, Perry, Emilson Cribari, Wallace, Little, Hutton, Black, Templeton, Sandaza, Shiels. Subs: Gallagher, Hegarty, McKay, Naismith, Crawford.
Referee: Euan Norris