Scottish Cup: Rangers 0 - 2 Dundee United: Too easy for United as Rangers woe deepens

ALLY McCoist has had worse days than this in his Rangers career, but not many. At the end of a week which saw the Ibrox club engulfed by cataclysmic headlines, they made their exit from the Scottish Cup with barely a whimper.

Dundee United’s part in this fifth round tie will inevitably be overshadowed by the storm clouds gathering over Rangers and it would be unfortunate for Peter Houston and his players if their excellent performance and fully merited victory was not properly recognised.

However, this was the day when McCoist began to suffer the consequences of Rangers’ decision to sell top-scorer Nikica Jelavic to Everton in the closing hours of the transfer window without being able to sign a replacement. Rangers finished yesterday’s match with a strike partnership of Salim Kerkar and Andrew Little, as graphic an illustration as possible of the restrictions McCoist is now operating under.

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Chairman and owner Craig Whyte looked on from the directors’ box as the costly early exit from another cup competition, watched by a third-full Ibrox, simply added to his club’s cashflow problems.

Retaining the SPL title now offers the only source of avoiding a first trophy-free season for five years but on yesterday’s evidence, that appears a forlorn hope for Rangers.

This was an abject display from McCoist’s men, devoid of imagination.They were punished for the predictability of their play by a United side who outperformed them in every department.

United were full value for the 2-0 lead they earned in the first 35 minutes, having set a positive tempo from the start of the match, and never looked likely to let it slip. They were by far the more fluent, purposeful and threatening side and there were no shortage of warning signs for Rangers, even before United made their 15th-minute breakthrough.

Houston’s men had the ball in the net inside the opening two minutes, although Johnny Russell’s effort was ruled out by referee Willie Collum for a late challenge by United captain Jon Daly on keeper Allan McGregor before the ball broke to his strike partner.

It was nonetheless an early statement of United’s attacking intent, and the Rangers defence were soon stretched again when the impressive Gary Mackay-Steven picked out Daly on the left side of the penalty area.

The big Irishman appeared to delay his shot unnecessarily, however, and Kyle Bartley was able to make a covering block.

Daly then linked up smartly with Russell to create an opening for the lively Scotland Under-21 international who attracted interest from Celtic last week

Russell cut in from the right to get away a shot, but Dorin Goian managed to take some of the pace off the ball, which allowed McGregor to make a reasonably comfortable save.

However, the Rangers goalkeeper was left helpless when United made their early dominance count with the opening goal. McGregor had made a tremendous save to keep out Paul Dixon’s long-range shot at the expense of a corner, only for his defence to fail to clear their lines properly when it was delivered.

A cross from John Rankin was clawed away from under his crossbar by McGregor but it was immediately flighted back into the danger area by Mackay-Steven from the right.

Gavin Gunning rose to meet it with a firm header which beat McGregor via the underside of the bar.

Rangers, sorely lacking in imagination or penetration, were provoked into a response. Sone Aluko, the one player who appeared capable of sparking McCoist’s team into life, turned smartly to make space for himself in the penalty area but his close range shot was brilliantly saved by Dusan Pernis.

The United goalkeeper reacted smartly again a few minutes later to turn a precise low shot from David Healy behind for a corner, a rare moment when the Rangers striker received any kind of worthwhile service.

A second goal for United continued to look more likely than a Rangers equaliser and so it proved, when Russell struck 10 minutes before the interval.

The move and the finish summed up everything impressive about United’s performance. Dixon and Mackay-Steven played an incisive one-two on the left to create the opening, Dixon then picking out Russell’s well-timed run into the penalty area. After a fine first touch, Russell drove a firm left-foot shot beyond McGregor from eight yards.

While a roll call of poor performers in Rangers colours would have required a lengthy queue, recent signing Mervan Celik was especially wretched and appeared completely out of his depth. It was no surprise that he was substituted at the interval, although his replacement Kerkar brought precious little more in terms of good quality play.

When McCoist made his second change of the afternoon, sending on Little for Healy on the hour mark, the desperate shortage of attacking resources now at the manager’s disposal was laid bare.

United cruised through the second- half, seldom finding themselves under serious threat. With a greater sense of urgency, not that they required it, they might easily have stretched their winning margin. Garry Kenneth sent a free header straight into the arms of McGregor, then Daly nodded over from a good position as Rangers once more looked vulnerable at the back.

Aluko persisted in trying to drag Rangers back into the tie and created their only significant opening of the second-half with a low cross to Kerkar, who blazed his shot wildly off target.

Pernis did not have a save to make after the break; McGregor remaining the busier keeper as he made a smart intervention to keep out John Rankin’s dipping volley.

Long before the end, the jubilant travelling supporters were taunting those home fans remaining in the stadium with chants of “Easy, easy”. It was an assessment with which it was difficult to argue.