RANGERS supporters are saying it feels like the early 1980s around Ibrox these days and that is a period they remember with all the fondness of an ice age.
Dundee United recreated their own good old days of 30 years ago with a performance of real substance and confidence to stick it to one of the Old Firm, just as they used to do back in Jim McLean's day.
What they were up against was a weak, barren Rangers who were duly bundled out of the William Hill Scottish Cup. The early '80s at Ibrox meant sparse crowds, players who weren't up to the job and a general mood of decline. Yesterday all three boxes were ticked once again. Only a little more than 16,000 Rangers fans bothered to turn up for the first match since they flogged their main goalscorer.
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United put the ball in their net twice in the first 35 minutes and Rangers, beginning life without Nikica Jelavic, could still be playing now and they'd be stuck on nil. For the last half hour their attack comprised Andy Little and Salim Kerkar, a pair who might just as easily be playing for any run-of-the-mill Clydesdale Bank Premier League club instead of at Ibrox. It may be all that Rangers can afford when others are injured and they cannot buy reinforcements but neither those two nor the partnership which started the tie, David Healy and Sone Aluko, had the craft or quality to trouble United.
There was no late cavalry charge to save the game, no bombardment of the visitors' goal, because the better team on the pitch was in tangerine. Rangers didn't have it in them to control or impose their will on the match. United's first half in particular laid the foundation for their excellent win and even if Rangers had more possession and pressure after the break it was lumpen and undermined by poor passing, poor technique . . . poor everything. United's back four mopped it all up, their midfield was combative and, in Jon Daly, Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven, they had the three best forwards on the pitch. There would have been moments when Ally McCoist might have looked at Peter Houston's players with envy.
Enormous amounts have been written and endless hours broadcast about the financial horrors at Ibrox but here was their poverty for the eye to see. Kerkar and Little cannot carry the expectations of this club – which are having to be downsized time and time again – and their only January arrival, Mervan Celik, was given just 45 anonymous minutes before being hooked.
It is possible to feel some sympathy for McCoist while still recognising that he was not blameless yesterday. Rangers' team cost more to assemble, and is paid far more, than United's. Yet they were flat and ordinary throughout and it was the visitors who seemed to come into the tie with belief and a convincing game plan. The staggering statistic is that Rangers have won only one of the seven cup ties they have played this season and that was against Arbroath. This was the sixth game they have failed to win at Ibrox this season.
United began forcefully, taking the game by the throat, and they edged ahead after only 15 minutes. Mackay-Steven's delivery into the heart of the Rangers box was met by Gavin Gunning's forceful header which bulleted past Allan McGregor. One thing there isn't a lack of in the Rangers team is height, which made it such a bad goal to concede.
The second was far more impressively worked and again it left the Rangers defence open and exposed. Paul Dixon fed the ball down the left wing to Mackay-Steven and set off on a driving run. The ball was returned to him and he drove on before threading a pass for Russell to thrash past McGregor. Kyle Bartley was out of position, but he wasn't the only one. A team is in trouble when it has nothing up front and concedes cheap goals.
Ibrox wasn't ready for Rangers going two down, but then this wasn't a normal Ibrox. The home stands were around one-third full. Maybe that was down to the game not being covered by season tickets, or perhaps it was because it was live on television, or else 30,000-or-so wanted to make a statement about Jelavic being sold without being replaced. Whatever, the end result was the same. Every empty seat was a home fan turning their back while United had about 1600 of their own making a racket in one corner. There was nothing to intimidate United and the supporters revelled in their team's assured, lively, skilful performance.
Dusan Pernis had to save from Aluko and Healy in the first half but Rangers were limp. United spent most of the second half defending with composure and intelligence and they could have scored on the counter-attack when Daly headed over and John Rankin forced a save from McGregor.
It became a niggly match, with numerous stoppages and players being hurt in tackles. The 10 bookings were evenly shared and eight of them came in the second half. If that gives an impression that Rangers went down fighting, it is misleading. The boos were loud enough at the end but Rangers left the cup with a whimper.