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Billy Dodds believes boycott harms Rangers' chance of cup victory

IT is less than a year since Rangers last played Dundee United at Tannadice. It just feels a lot longer. 

So much has changed at both clubs in the intervening 11 months that tomorrow's William Hill Scottish Cup fifth-round match almost feels like two teams meeting for the first time.

It is undoubtedly the tie of the round and, given the myriad other contributing factors and side stories, also one of the most intriguing matches of the season.

United are favourites to win and although they beat Rangers 2-1 last March that's not something that has been uttered about this fixture for quite some time.

Rangers' third division status ensures as much, although United will be wary of being left with egg on their faces.

Motherwell went to Ibrox earlier in the season for a Scottish Communities League Cup tie and were played off the park. United will be keen to avoid a similar fate. Home advantage, and the ease with which Inverness Caledonian Thistle dealt with Rangers in a later round, should imbue them with optimism.

The atmosphere will be different, too. Rangers have always enjoyed the backing of a boisterous travelling support on previous trips to Tannadice but barely 300 are expected to make the journey this time, a legacy of the bad blood that has built up between Stephen Thompson, the United chairman, and the Ibrox club. Rangers asked their fans to stay away: the majority have listened.

Billy Dodds, the former Rangers and United player, isn't sure the boycott was wise. "Rangers not having that fanbase there gives United the edge," he said. "I think they would have had a better chance with a support.

"I know what it's like as an away player at Tannadice, walking out of that tunnel with your fans above you and it's rocking. I can understand why Rangers want the boycott, but it's not going to help the team.

"For me, it's a hindrance and I think it is unfair on Rangers fans for the club to say, 'you can go if you want, but we don't want you to go'. Rangers fans are passionate about their team. There is also too much going on in Scottish football already without carrying out boycotts and having agendas."

Gary McSwegan, another player to have spent time at both clubs, can recall two occasions when an away side trotted out of the tunnel and had to search for their supporters.

He was an unused substitute when Rangers beat Leeds United at Elland Road – visiting fans were banned from attending either leg – in a Champions League qualifying tie, while, as a United player, there was a game in Turkey when the visiting support could have travelled in a taxi.

"It was against Trabzonspor in the UEFA Cup and we had four supporters in the ground," McSwegan recalled. "They were sitting in the middle of the home fans but there was no trouble, they were just laughing."

McSwegan hopes the boycott will be a one-off. "It's an unsettling time for Scottish football," he added. "Hopefully it will all settle down as quickly as possible for the benefit of the game.

"Clubs are having wee vendettas with each other and the sooner it is sorted out the better. Maybe we need someone to come in from the outside to do that, someone who is fresh and could get everyone together."

There is also the small matter of the cup tie being Jackie McNamara's first game in charge of United, the former Celtic defender having been installed as Peter Houston's replacement. "I've seen Partick Thistle a few times and Jackie did a great job there," McSwegan added. "It might have been the right time for him to go, a fresh challenge.

"You couldn't get a better game for Jackie to start, but the pressure is on United because for once they go into the match as favourites and you'll never get an easy game against Rangers. They have so much experience on and off the field they could give a hard time to any Premier League team."

Meanwhile, Rangers striker Francisco Sandaza is rated doubtful for tomorrow's fifth round tie.

The Spaniard is struggling with a hamstring problem, while skipper Lee McCulloch has failed to recover from an ankle injury in time.

Lewis Macleod also misses the clash at Tannadice after being ruled out for seven weeks with knee ligament damage sustained against Montrose last weekend.

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