A HORROR mistake by Rangers stand-in goalkeeper Steve Simonsen let Dundee United seal their place in the William Hill Scottish Cup final as the Tannadice side ran out 3-1 winners at Ibrox.
Rangers 1 - 3 Dundee United
SCORERS: Rangers; Smith 42, Dundee United; Armstrong 23; Mackay-Steven 36; Ciftci 83
THE ironies trickled down across a peculiar sort of day at Ibrox yesterday. Rangers, and their manager Ally McCoist, will receive a flaying for their failure to end up as merely plucky losers in their semi-final tie against a fitful Dundee United. Yet, ultimately, the Ibrox men were no better or worse than the old Rangers, the top-flight Rangers, when facing the Tannadice side in this competition. In fact, if there can be such a thing, yesterday was one of their better exits at the hands Dundee United in recent years.
In the past two decades no team in the country have been more adept than United at scalping Rangers in the Scottish Cup. They have won the past six such ties, and seen off the Ibrox side in four of the past five years. Rarely, in those confrontations, though, could a case be made for Rangers being the better side. Yesterday, for long spells that was the case.
As McCoist acknowledged, the display of his team mattered not a jot when they were guilty of missing corking chances and conceding avoidable goals. And it might also be said so what if Rangers were utterly unrecognisable from the desperate bunch that lost the Ramsdens Cup final against Raith Rovers a week ago. On both occasions, though, they have not been good enough.
It used to be said by those inside Ibrox that their reason for running with a £6 million wage bill as they worked their way up from the Scottish fourth tier was to be competitive in the cups. Yet, all Rangers have to reflect on from two years of splurging oodles of cash while ensconced in part-time lower-league set-ups is a home League Cup win over Motherwell and an away Scottish Cup success against Falkirk. A record on a par with what Albion Rovers achieved in their Scottish Cup run this season.
At least yesterday McCoist’s men looked like a top-flight side and produced the commitment, cohesion and, at times, command that have so often been absent in their play these past two years. As a reaction to the risible display in the Ramsdens, it was genuinely commendable.
But they were undone by errors, the most toe-curling of which was the brain freeze by stand-in keeper Steve Simonsen, deputising for the injured Cammy Bell, that led to him stubbing the ball straight into the path of Nadir Ciftci seven minutes from time. The Turk gleefully accepted the gift to nip round Simonsen and stroke in a goal that made it 3-1 and killed the tie stone dead. Simonsen hung his head like a condemned man in the aftermath, while the heads of the Rangers legions that made up 28,000 of the 41,059 crowd must have felt like bursting.
Before the kick-off it was eardrums that threatened to pop. There has rarely been a Scottish Cup semi-final recently that has produced so deafening a din as that which was created by both supports in the build-up to kick-off. United’s contingent, filling the Broomloan Stand and a section of the Govan Stand, teased their rivals with “you’re not Rangers any more” but the Ibrox followers did not take the mocking lying down. McCoist’s men did likewise against a team that were expected simply to roll over the top of them.
Rangers’ vital urgings and forceful pressing prevented Jackie McNamara’s team settling into any kind of rhythm and within three minutes John Rankin was forced to block a Bilel Mohsni effort on the line following the first corner of the encounter.
In those initial exchanges a tone was set that persisted for most of the 90 minutes. United played on the fringes, almost waiting for the moments when their attacking movement and incisiveness might allow them to pick off their opponents.
Indeed, the tale of the afternoon was told in the four minutes that ended with Stuart Armstrong opening the scoring midway through the first period. By then, Rangers should have been in front with a diagonal pass from the right flank engineering an outstanding opportunity for Dean Shiels. The Irishman motored in on Radoslaw Cierzniak after outpacing Gavin Gunning but then horribly shanked a shot wide with the goal at his mercy. Armstrong was not so wasteful after Gunning launched a header fully 30 yards that allowed the attacker to ghost into the box and smartly clip an effort in off the far post. Rangers questioned the legitimacy of the strike, with good reason, because Ciftci had walked back from an offside position as the ball was played forward.
It was a day when they didn’t get many real breaks except unfortunate ones, the latter befalling them at United’s second in 36 minutes. There was accomplishment in the manner that Ryan Gauld carved his way along the byeline but from his cut-back that found Gary Mackay-Steven, via a sclaffed shot by Armstrong, the winger netted courtesy of his pop skiffing off the back of Mohsni. Once again this goal arrived just after a glaring miss by McCoist’s side, Jon Daly skewing the ball over after being teed up to burst the net.
For all their bad luck, mind you, Rangers required an inglorious intervention by Cierzniak on the stroke of half-time to give them a straw to clutch. There was curl but little power in a free kick by Steven Smith but despite getting down to the ball, in slo-mo, the goalkeeper could only push it over his own goalline. In the canon of backline balls-ups, he was left firmly in the shade by Simonsen.