IN THE final analysis, after all the other froth and furore, perhaps Dundee United’s breeze of a Scottish Cup win was really a tale of two managers.
Scorers: Dundee United - Russell (1, 79), Daly (35)
Referee: E Norris
Jackie McNamara’s first match in charge of the Tannadice club provided the sort of start – with a 15-second, frankly, match-winning goal by Johnny Russell – and outcome, he beamed he “would take every time”. In contrast, another shambolic reverse provided Ally McCoist with the end to a cup run he has endured just too many times in his year-and-a-half in charge.
McCoist stated he would not “go crazy” over the loss since in two of the past three seasons, when the Ibrox club could boast internationalists such as Allan McGregor, Nikica Jelavic, Steven Naismith and Steven Whittaker and not the “SPL players” they are over-compensating as a Third Division side, the Tannadice outfit had dumped them from the Scottish Cup.
True, but it is worth noting what has occurred between the first Tannadice cup reverse – under Walter Smith, in March 2010 – and the latest. Rangers, with these bookend beatings, have failed to reach the semi-finals of any of the past six national cup competitions in which they have participated, the first such run for the club in the post-war period. In addition, they were eliminated at the first time of asking at the Champions League and Europa League qualifier in McCoist’s early monthsin charge. The Rangers manager says he would worry more if things weren’t comfortable for his team in the Third Division, with that the “priority”, but it was simply impossible for his club not to run away with that championship.
When he took over from Smith, it would equally have seemed impossible for McCoist to make no real impression on any cup competition across seven attempts. Even against a backdrop where the club were liquidated. The reincarnated Rangers still operate with the second highest wage bill in Scottish football – a hefty £7m – and will run at a loss merely for the reward of skooshing a league otherwise composed of part-time teams with, on average, a 28th of their budget.
McCoist and his club may find themselves in invidious circumstances – and the boycott by Rangers fans ramped up by his chairman Charles Green didn’t help matters – but in still having the pulling power to recruit such players as Ian Black, Dean Shiels, David Templeton and Francisco Sandaza, he should be able to get some sort of return out of them.
On paper, there didn’t appear too much between the sides at Tannadice, with internationalists Lee Wallace and goalkeeper Neil Alexander also in the visitors’ ranks. On the pitch, it was, as Craig Levein said on radio yesterday, “men against boys”.
Or in the case of Black – red-card in the closing minutes for a second bookable offence, just after his team-mate Kai Naismith had been instantly dismissed after a wild lunge on Willo Flood – men against a petulant bully boy.
McCoist said that Black “did the team and himself no favours” with his ill-disciplined approach. He might have not helped his case either by feigning as if to spear United fans, who revelled in ridiculing their opposition all afternoon, as he walked off.
Black demonstrated at Hearts he could be a productive performer if managed well. Shiels, Sandaza and Templeton likewise have all had spells being heralded as among the former players at Scottish football’s top end with the right instruction.
They once were the equals of such as Russell, who netted twice at the weekend, and Jon Daly, the other scorer. On Saturday, they gave the appearance for all the world they were lower division players there for the taking by sharper, more accomplished opponents. And for all their deficiencies, these Rangers players were still head and shoulders above their defenders.
The efforts of centre-backs Emerson Cribini and Ross Perry,and full-back Sebastian Faure, were utterly embarrassing. Cribini and Perry got tangled up to allow Russell to nip in and rifle in a shot Alexaner couldn’t keep out before any Rangers player had touched the ball. Then, presumably attempting to play offside, no Rangers player stepped back to follow Daly as Flood swept in a free kick from the left, allowing the Irishman to casually backflick a header into the net ten minutes from the interval. Russell’s second, 11 minutes from time, was the product of him being set up by a smart through ball by Daly and then applying an even smarter finish with the outside of his left boot.
Flood spoke of United lifting “a little monkey off our back” with a first home win since the 3-0 derby victory in August.
The midfielder, picked out by McNamara for his tireless contribution, seemed relieved more than anything to emerge triumphant from confrontation. “I felt like everybody forgot there was a game of football happening.
“It felt like it was about what this chairman was saying, what that chairman was saying, what that fan group was saying,” he said. “But I think we were concentrating on the game and thankfully we got the result. I hope everybody will be talking about Dundee United having a gameplan, getting it down and passing it and deservedly winning.”
There is little chance of that when Rangers’ involvement was so utterly inept.
Fans of the Ibrox club, around 400 of whom blanked the boycott to attend the fifth round tie, like to crow that even with their brand only in the Third Division, their stature is reflected in the fact that everyone still wants to talk about them.
They are right. It could bedazzle the greatest scholars of any age how Rangers could find themselves with a £7m wage bill and a £700,000 team.