They certainly would have done if Scott Arfield had brought his shooting boots. A double from Antonio Colak on his 29th birthday ensured Rangers did not suffer for the midfielder’s profligacy.
The ire of the home fans was re-directed at their own players as they made heavy weather of closing out the win. Few expected United to be the ones pressing for an equaliser in the remaining minutes with Rangers reduced to wasting time at the corner flag.
Although their side were rarely in danger of falling to a fourth straight defeat for the first time since 1985, it wasn’t a performance to offer the home fans much comfort. Some even booed at the end of a largely plodding performance from their team.
United feared being on the wrong end of another goal glut after the rapid start from Rangers. Although the hosts took the lead after only eight minutes, they might already have been two ahead. Arfield spurned both opportunities.
United steadied themselves. When Rangers did finally go ahead, it was following a corner for the visitors won by Tony Watt. No manager wishes to see their team concede from such a position. Caretaker manager Liam Fox’s job promotion hopes means he will have been especially wounded by the ease with which James Tavernier picked Ian Harkes’ pocket before being allowed to run three-quarters of the length of the pitch. Colak swept home his skipper’s cross on his return to the starting line-up.
Some interpreted this assignment as Fox’s final audition for the permanent manager’s position at United amid reports claiming Kevin Thomson and Dean Holden are set for more talks about the vacancy in the coming days.
It’s hard to know how this performance will be viewed by the United hierarchy. It’s another defeat which keeps United rooted to bottom spot. But they recovered well after a start when it seemed only a matter of how many goals Rangers might score. It’s not fanciful to wonder what might have happened had they made better choices at certain times. Harkes’ dithering was just one of those occasions.
If he does get the job on a full-time basis, Fox will need to address the slow starts United made to both halves. It’s been a problem all season. They will point to a penalty claim after Watt fell under a challenge from Barisic moments into the second half.
But again, to lose another goal shortly afterwards was criminal. Colak flicked in at the near post after Barisic’s cross.
United made a spirited attempt at a comeback. Substitute Sadat Anaku had an immediate impact after replacing Glenn Middleton 12 minutes after the interval.
Two minutes later Liam Smith drilled an angled shot into the corner after a flowing move involving Sadat and Jamie McGrath. Rangers were relieved to hear Kevin Clancy’s final whistle, with the visitors on the attack once more.