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Punishment by precision

THIS match was seen by many observers as the acid test of Ally McCoist as a manager.

Dundee United Gary Mackay-Steven celebrates giving his side a 2-0 lead in a game that was decided by quality of finishing		            Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Dundee United Gary Mackay-Steven celebrates giving his side a 2-0 lead in a game that was decided by quality of finishing Photograph: Stewart Attwood

Instead, the Rangers fans must have left Ibrox yesterday simply yearning for a return of Ally McCoist the player.

That happy knack exhibited by McCoist of finding inner calm amid a frenetic match, and clinically converting any openings which arise, was sadly lacking as Dean Shiels, Jon Daly and Bilel Mohsni all spurned glaring first-half openings to give the Ibrox side the reward their side's general play deserved.

The same accusation, however, could hardly be levelled at Dundee United's Stuart Armstrong when he timed his run to converge on a John Souttar header, before gracefully steering an awkwardly bouncing ball in off Steve Simonsen's left-hand post to break the deadlock.

While Rangers eventually self-destructed, courtesy of individual errors by Richard Foster and Steve Simonsen, the precision with which their errors were pounced upon - by Ryan Gauld to set up Gary Mackay-Steven's scrambled second, then Nadir Ciftci for the killer third - was the only discernible difference between these two sides yesterday.

Rangers will end the season with only the League One title to show for their efforts and while there was a novelty value in seeing how these teams matched up to each other in the most eagerly-awaited domestic match of the season, this also amounted to deja vu for United. Four years from the last five the Tannadice side have now accounted for Rangers in this competition, even if the gap between the two has significantly reduced since last season's 3-0 victory for United at Tannadice. Only two survivors from that embarrassment populated the "home" side's line-up yesterday, Ian Black and Shiels, with another, Lee Wallace, missing out with a hip injury. Cammy Bell's absence with concussion opened the door for Simonsen, whose error was to slam shut any escape route his side might have had from their predicament.

For all the interminable weeks and months of wrangling about ticket allocations and supposedly neutral venues, this was a proper spectacle and both sets of fans played their part. While Rangers supporters were able to park all the disappointments of last week's Ramsdens Cup final defeat, all the doubts about future owners and season ticket sales for 90 minutes, United fans including chairman Stephen Thompson - who as promised took a seat behind a goal - made Ibrox a riot of colour and noise. Smoke bombs were set off before the match began, while at kick off there were more tangerine and black balloons than at a kids' party at Lorraine Kelly's house.

United manager Jackie McNamara went with the callow John Souttar alongside Gavin Gunning at centre-half, but within seconds Jon Daly was mugging the teenager, leading to a corner kick and subsequently Mohsni's shot being cleared off the line.

The next chance was even more glaring, Fraser Aird's through-pass giving Shiels all day to consider his finish, but he skewed it badly wide.

As smaller teams found out so frequently in Rangers' heyday, such misses tend to come back to haunt you. McCoist complained to referee Bobby Madden afterwards about a player returning from an offside position when the visitors opened the scoring but Armstrong certainly wasn't and his was the finish of a seasoned veteran.

You might have expected a brittle Rangers side to fold but United were still offering them plenty of encouragement. Daly and McCulloch were causing havoc at set-pieces, and then the mother of all stramashes ensued when Nicky Law's chipped cross clipped the junction of post and bar. Next it was Daly's turn to fluff his lines - snatching at a panicky left foot finish over the crossbar when he had time to take a touch.

One again United made them pay. Ryan Gauld pounced on a Richard Foster error, compounding it with a nutmeg as he hared to the bye-line. His cut-back was intended for Armstrong but was only sclaffed in the direction of Mackay-Steven, whose effort found a rather fortuitous route into the net via the chest of the backtracking Mohsni.

Again, Rangers refused to fold, Steven Smith giving them a route back into the match with a fine left-footed free-kick which sneaked in at a post following a minor malfunction in the United wall, and soon we were into a fraught second half, which saw Rangers largely nullified by their Premiership opponents, even if clear-cut chances were hard to come by.

Smith almost had a second of the day after his deflected free-kick was tipped away by Cierzniak. Rangers were again forcing the pace when they shot themselves in the foot one last time.

The ball was funnelled back to Simonsen, who took an errant touch, allowing Ciftci to simply stroll around the goalkeeper, with so much time to celebrate before rolling the ball in that he almost forgot to score.

Turkish delight, some might say. It was United's day, the club defying some of their own critics in discovering how to win ugly.

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