Allan McGregor has his big Rangers day stolen by Malik Tillman - now to try and keep Bayern Munich starlet
But no one with Rangers' interests at heart, including the practically redundant McGregor, could have been upset by the way the goalkeeper’s milestone achievement was overshadowed by a 20-year-old with everything still in front of him. Malik Tillman scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season to break down Dundee United's solid resistance as Rangers made it ten successive league wins with a 2-0 victory. Tillman now has six goals in his last ten appearances. It is an excellent return from an advanced midfield position in his maiden season of first-team football. He has also had to cope with the challenge of moving to a new country when he was still a teenager.
Rangers' main task now is securing his permanent transfer from Bayern Munich. Manager Michael Beale said everything was positive on that front afterwards. He had instructed Tillman to play even closer to Alfredo Morelos, the main striker, against United and Rangers reaped the benefit of this tweak. Tillman had to defer to the (far) older man when it came to the man-of-the-match award. He was, however, the match winner with a goal in each half. He was also often the architect, setting up teammates who were either off target or unable to even read what he wanted them to do. As has been demonstrated many times this season, he is clearly a special talent.
Nevertheless, the Tannoy relayed the message that McGregor, 41, was the game’s star player. It was a presumably ceremonial and slightly tongue-in-cheek award to mark the significance of the day because the veteran goalkeeper barely had to make a save. It was perhaps an attempt to add some levity at the end of a week where Rangers had been severely embarrassed by women’s team coach Craig McPherson, whose extensive apology for headbutting Celtic head coach Fran Alonso was published on the club’s website on the morning of the game.
Rangers took care of business amid much dress drama here as they begin the countdown to next Saturday’s Old Firm derby at Celtic Park. The margin of victory ought to have been greater. Ryan Kent hit the bar towards the end of the first half and several other chances were spurned. McGregor was able to enjoy a day off as Rangers, thanks mainly to Tillman, found a way to dismantle the league’s bottom side, who had set out with a clear intention to frustrate the life out of the hosts.
It’s not clear how far down the road Rangers are to making the United States international’s stay a permanent one. An agreement is in place with Bayern Munich but the recent change of manager there has caused some anxiety among Rangers fans. Beale claimed everything is progressing well on that front and he is being kept in the loop. "Me and Malik have a positive relationship," he said.
The player's worth was clear to see against opponents whose only real option was to pack the defence. To United’s great credit, it never looked like they were about to cave in, even after they lost the second goal worryingly early in the second half -# just before the hour mark – after Tillman slashed a shot past the unsighted Mark Birighitti. Kent wisely decided to leave his teammate to it after either one of them could have latched onto James Tavernier’s pass into the box. Like most of those watching, the winger sensed that the youngster was in the mood. Best leave him to it.
Tillman, Todd Cantwell and Kent always looked like being their best bet when it came to unlocking the door and indeed two of the three had a part to play in Rangers’ opener seven minutes before half time. Cantwell flicked a cute ball into Tillman’s path and the No 71 swept the ball beyond Birighitti.
As often happens when a team is set up to defend, it seemed to spook United when a chance to score did come their way. Indeed, this opening arrived early on and might – might – might have changed the course of the afternoon. It possibly came a little too soon. The game had barely set into the pattern of Rangers probing and United sitting with nine men behind the ball.
Some good interplay between Peter Pawlett and Steven Fletcher saw the former given the chance to sprint towards goal. It was a three-on-one scenario at one point. However, Pawlett seemed to lose belief at the crucial moment. His attempted cross for Jamie McGrath was deflected behind by Connor Goldson. “Pete was caught in two minds between taking it on his own or being unselfish to square it to McGrath,” lamented manager Jim Goodwin afterwards. “In hindsight, we would have preferred Pete to have been more direct and try to work Allan McGregor.” Pawlett’s frustration with himself turned to profound agony minutes later when he limped off with what looked like a recurrence of the hamstring injury that has sidelined him for most of this year. He was almost in tears when Kai Fotheringham replaced him after 21 minutes.
The disruption didn’t help the visitors but Craig Sibbald did send an angled effort fizzing just over the upright with ten minutes to go until half time. Rangers hadn’t yet made the breakthrough so there was some growing uneasiness amid the home stands and some grumbles about the pace at which the home side were playing, which was glacial at times.
But they scored goals at good moments and Beale enjoyed the luxury of deploying his full complement of substitutes ahead of the trip across the city next weekend. Tillman was one of those removed with five minutes left. Allowing him the chance to seal a hat-trick was clearly considered lower priority to making sure he is fit to face Celtic.
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