Rangers could not have asked for a better way to prepare for a trip to the forbidding home of Villarreal. Beleaguered Dundee, who had Kenny Miller sent off on his return to Ibrox, did not provide a test but then this wasn’t what Steven Gerrard’s side craved at this juncture.
What they did desire was a confidence-boosting result – their biggest win to date under Gerrard certainly counts as that – while enjoying the luxury of granting players returning from injury playing time and resting others.
Winger Ryan Kent scored his first goal for the club, as did teenager Glenn Middleton. Kent was replaced after 65 minutes with Thursday’s trip to Spain for the opening Europa League group game with Villarreal in mind.
Lassana Coulibaly enjoyed a valuable 55 minutes’ worth of playing time on his return after a month out injured. He got the home side’s scoring underway after four minutes.
It might have been a lot worse for Dundee, whose meagre resistance was weakened further following Miller’s ordering off after a late challenge on Borna Barisic. He was booked at the start of the second-half after a tangle with Andy Halliday, his former teammate.
It was probably advisable to avoid a risky lunge on Barisic given he was on a yellow card and needed to avoid another one. But the straight red referee Kevin Clancy believed his challenge merited means Dundee are permitted to appeal the decision. Manager Neil McCann came in afterwards and said they were intending to do just that.
A main talking point was the reaction to Miller’s early departure, after 78 minutes, provoked on the touchline and in the stands. The striker, whose last of three spells with Rangers ended amid acrimony, was given a rousing ovation by nearly all of the home supporters. He recently said he regretted the manner of his departure since it meant he could not say a proper farewell.
Gerrard, who joined in with the applause, even ventured to say pre-match how he hoped Miller “is appreciated” by the Rangers fans.
It’s strange the way things work out. Someone with such an intense winner’s mentality will have preferred to be jeered for scoring a winner than cheered to the rafters in these circumstances. All this Rangers context is extraneous to Dundee, whose immediate concern is Miller’s availability for Saturday’s vital home clash with Hibs. McCann was hopeful. “We will appeal the decision, 100 per cent,” he said. “Kenny has won the ball and his momentum has carried him through.”
This was not how the striker wished to come back – starved of service and skippering a side who began their slide to a fifth successive league defeat almost from the off. Scott Arfield had already missed a glaring chance with a header before Coulibaly, whose last appearance was a 2-0 win over St Mirren last month, swept in the opener in four minutes after the ball ping-ponged around the box.
Rangers seemed intent on sweeping Dundee away – Alfredo Morelos had the ball in the net four minutes later but had it ruled out for off-side. The Ibrox side were two up after 13 minutes with Kent finishing off a 1-2 with Arfield in style while the Dundee defence resembled statues.
Dundee survived any further damage until the dying moments of the half when O’Dea pulled down Morelos and James Tavernier tucked away the penalty.
Strange though it might seem considering Dundee were two down after 14 minutes and three adrift by the interval, they did create chances. The half-time statistics showed Dundee trailing seven shots to six. It’s just none of their efforts were on target. The visitors’ best chance was wasted because Elton Ngwatala delayed shooting for so long that Nikola Katic was allowed to clear.
While Rangers were perhaps further ahead than deserved after 45 minutes, their dominance after half-time failed to reap what it deserved. Gerrard’s side somehow managed to score just one further goal – and it was a gift from the visitors. Genseric Kusunga, who replaced the struggling O’Dea shortly after half-time, tried to chest down Daniel Candeias’ cross and was then left in an undignified heap on the floor as Middleton, an 18 year-old with a promising future at Ibrox, seized the chance to whip the ball into the net.
Gerrard praised Middleton but was otherwise careful not to get carried away, despite the resounding nature of the win.
“Maybe it’s me, if it is, I apologise for not giving my players enough credit,” he said. “I just us want to be consistent and strong and this place to be a place teams like Dundee don’t want to come.
“I just thought first half it was up and down,” he added. “I felt like I was watching a game of basketball. That’s not how I want it.”