Rangers start Seville preparations and keep Celtic waiting with win over Dundee United
Resignation but very little deflation. These are surreal times in Govan as Celtic home in on the Scottish title. Normally this would lead to ire in the Ibrox stands and a demand for heads to roll.
Not now. Not here. Rangers are still basking in the good vibes after reaching the Europa League final. With a Scottish Cup final against Hearts also in the diary, they can afford – on this occasion – to let the league go.
James Tavernier’s second half penalty kept this issue alive for a few more days at least. The skipper was one of three players substituted shortly afterwards as Giovanni Van Bronckhorst took the opportunity to give his youngsters a run out.
Charlie McCann, Alex Lowry and Adam Devine were all sent on. The hosts finished the game with no fewer than five teenagers on the pitch, including Amad Diallo, who scored his side’s second goal. Leon King, 18, made his first league start in the centre of defence.
To be fair to Dundee United, they bravely started the game with two teenagers and another, Archie Meekison, who only turned 20 last week.
As for Rangers, big guns such John Lundstram and Ryan Kent were not required although the former did get the biggest cheer of the afternoon – goals included – when he emerged from the dugout to warm up after 35 minutes.
Tavernier’s presence on the scoresheet is taken as read these days but there was some interest sparked by a Rangers No 9 joining him there. Strikers are in short supply right now at Ibrox and Diallo isn’t even one of those, even if he does wear the number that used to be associated with centre-forwards. But he did finish like he was a master poacher when he clipped the ball over Benjamin Siegrist to make sure of the points and keep Celtic waiting to uncork the champagne bottles. It was a very decent cameo from Diallo, who replaced Scott Wright at half-time.
It was not a case of joy unconfined. Perspective has also been provided by the grim news of last week. Much-loved kitman Jimmy Bell adorned the front page of the match programme. “Jimmy was the heart and soul of the place,” wrote skipper James Tavernier, one of only four Rangers players to keep their place following the heroics and exertions against RB Leipzig, when Ibrox, emotions already raw following Bell’s death, was a cauldron of passion.
It was slightly different here on a Sunday afternoon against Dundee United with Rangers simply seeking to postpone the inevitable. As expected, stray beach balls were additional obstacles for the players as the home fans pressed home where they are heading in the very near future.
“Viva Espana” was played before kick-off and again at half-time. The visitors, meanwhile, have European ambitions of their own. There is still work to do on that front but Tam Courts sent out a very young side at Ibrox.
Meekison and Matthew Cudjoe, 18, played just behind lone front man Tony Watt. Lewis Neilson, also 18, started in the centre of defence but was replaced at half-time.
There were shades of the time Jim McLean fielded two teenage strikers in the shape of Duncan Ferguson and Christian Dailly for a trip to Ibrox in 1990. That was where the similarities ended because on that occasion United stunned the hosts 2-1. Here United struggled to lay a glove on Rangers, who boasted 73 per cent of the possession in the opening half, but retained hope at the start of the second.
Rangers however upped the ante and got a chance to beat Siegrist after 55 minutes when the ‘keeper cleaned out Sakala following a cute dink into the box from Ramsey. Tavernier converted for the right back’s 17th – yes 17th – goal of the season.
There was always the threat that United might strike against the run of play so Diallo’s strike, with 12 minutes left, proved welcome.
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