A spirited Dundee United fell to a 4-1 defeat at Ibrox as goals from Ianis Hagi, Ryan Kent, Joe Aribo and Alfredo Morelos stretched Rangers’ lead at the top of the Premiership to 18 points.
The Tangerines started well on a lovely winter’s afternoon in the southside of Glasgow but first-half strikes from Hagi and Kent all but killed the game as a contest.
Aribo’s powerful strike put the game beyond the Terrors on 48 minutes before an error from Benjamin Siegrist allowed Morelos to net his eighth league goal of the season.
With four minutes remaining, Marc McNulty pulled one back for United, well-deserved for their efforts.
The result leaves United in seventh spot, a point behind St Mirren in sixth, with the Buddies holding a game in hand in the race to make the top six.
United showed two changes from last weekend’s 3-0 home win over Livingston with Ian Harkes and Nicky Clark coming in for Adrian Sporle and the suspended Peter Pawlett.
The hosts were without captain James Tavernier and hitman Kemar Roofe after both hobbled off injured in the Gers’ 4-3 Europa League victory at Royal Antwerp on Thursday.
However, the Premiership leaders were still able to field a strong starting XI with Leon Balogun and Hagi coming in.
United impress in opening half-hour
The Terrors started brightly, with Gers No 1 Allan McGregor forced into denying Shankland from close range on nine minutes.
After neat build-up play around the edge of the box between Liam Smith, Jeando Fuchs and Louis Appere, Shankland waltzed through the heart of the home defence but his final touch was just too heavy as the experienced stopper got down to block.
On 13 minutes, a coming together between Tangerines keeper Siegrist and Light Blues midfielder Aribo left the Swiss stopper needing treatment before he was able to continue.
Soon after, United threatened again with Shankland finding Clark who in turn slipped in Appere. Once more, however, McGregor rushed out to smother the chance.
The Terrors’ positive vein continued into the 20th minute as Appere’s ball across the six-yard box, begging to be tapped home, evaded everyone.
Siegrist got down well, as Rangers raced up the other end, to deny Aribo after the Nigeria international worked the space well to a get a shot off from the edge of the area.
Morelos was next to test the away goal as Aribo got free on the right and fired a cross into the front-post area but Siegrist was a match for the Colombian’s effort.
On the half-hour mark, United’s front three linked up to good effect yet again with Shankland’s cute flick finding Clark who laid in Appere to unleash a stinging drive McGregor had to palm away.
Quick-fire double gives Gers a half-time lead
Five minutes later, however, the Teddy Bears took the lead as Hagi diverted home an Aribo drive that completely wrong-footed Siegrist and nestled in the back of the net.
The home side doubled their advantage just moments later as Kent latched on to Balogun’s fizzed delivery, with the former Liverpool man seeing his shot deflect beyond a helpless Siegrist.
Heading into half time, Edwards and Siegrist twice denied Morelos as he bore down on goal before Steven Davis skewed a volley wide.
United’s No 1 again halted Morelos’ progress before the visitors hit on the break, with Shankland lashing a fierce effort over the bar.
The second period began much the same way the first ended, with Aribo putting Rangers 3-0 up on 48 minutes with a thunderbolt of a strike that nearly took the net off.
Siegrist denied Morelos from close range on 52 minutes as the hosts pushed for more goals.
With acres of space to run into down the left, Jamie Robson could only lash his shot wide after being slipped in by Shankland as United looked for a route back into the contest.
Morleos rose well to connect with a cross to the back post but could only send his header wide of Siegrist’s left-hand post as the game approached the hour mark.
Light Blues run away with it after defensive error as McNulty bags consolation
Morelos got his goal on 64 minutes, however, thanks to a defensive mishap from the Terrors.
Charging down Ryan Edwards’ pass back, the Colombian blocked Siegrist’s clearance from inside his own area as the ball trundled beyond the keeper and into an empty net.
Morelos then won Rangers a penalty on 67 minutes as he was felled inside the box by Fuchs.
However, Siegrist redeemed himself for his earlier error, as he got down well to deny Borna Barisic from the spot.
United withstood more intense pressure from the hosts and were able to pull one back on 86 minutes, avoiding a repeat of the 4-0 reverse from earlier in the campaign.
Slipped in by Shankland, McNutly, on as a sub, stroked home his second of the season with McGregor not able to get a strong enough hand to it to turn it round the post.
It was only the second league goal the Gers have conceded at Ibrox all season.
Young defender Kerr Smith (16) came on in stoppage time to make his United debut as the hosts saw the game out comfortably.
The result leaves the Terrors seventh in the standings as they head for Rugby Park to take on Kilmarnock next Saturday.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor (GK); Balogun, Helander (Simpson 67), Goldson (C), Barisic; Davis (Wright 63), Jack (Kamara 27), Aribo, Kent, Morelos (Defoe 67), Hagi (Arfield 63).
Subs not used: McLaughlin (GK) Itten, Stewart and King.
Dundee United (4-1-2-1-2): Siegrist (GK); L Smith, Edwards, Reynolds (C), Robson, Butcher; Harkes (K Smith 90+2), Fuchs; Clark; Appere (McNulty 68), Shankland.
Subs not used: Deniz (GK), Sporle, Connolly, Hoti, Chalmers, Bolton and Neilson.
Referee: Nick Walsh.