Depleted Dundee United produced a valiant showing at Ibrox despite succumbing to a galling 1-0 defeat against Rangers.
With his squad decimated by precautionary absences following a Covid scare this week, Tam Courts’ unfamiliar eleven did themselves proud at the home of the champions.
The visitors frustrated the Gers for much of the encounter and, in a heartbreaking moment for the noisy travelling fans, hit the bar through Daren Watson in the dying embers.
However, the decisive moment came with 20 minutes to play, with James Tavernier slotting home a penalty-kick following a Scott McMann handball.
It is a fourth successive defeat for the Tangerines but, given the circumstances, the positives emanating from this trip to Govan far outweigh the negatives.
Rarely has the arrival of a team-sheet been so eagerly awaited.
Following several days of Covid concern, just how ravaged would United be?
As it was, the visitors’ starting eleven was littered with alterations and academy products.
Craig Moore and Watson, 16 and 18 years of age respectively, made their first ever Premiership starts.
Archie Meekison, Chris Mochrie and Declan Glass all played, with Trevor Carson replacing Benji Siegrist between the sticks.
I make it 13 players who might have played that @dundeeunitedfc are without today for one reason or another… Siegrist, Freeman, L Smith, Fuchs, Butcher, Pawlett, Levitt, Harkes, Niskanen, McNulty, Biamou, Neilson, Fotheringham.
— Richard Winton (@richardwinton) December 18, 2021
Peter Pawlett, Ian Harkes, Jeando Fuchs, Ilmari Niskanen and the injured Kieran Freeman all missed out from the side which lost to Livingston the previous week. Dylan Levitt was also absent.
Casting aside the experienced figures of Charlie Mulgrew and Carson, the average age of the United team was 22.3.
Yet, Courts kids were nerveless from the first whistle.
Clark stung the palms of Allan McGregor in the early stages following a super Adrian Sporle run.
Meekison saw a decent opening blocked inside the box.
Tavernier tested Carson from distance before Alfredo Morelos skewed a low drive wide — but the hosts were largely hounded and smothered in midfield, being forced wide.
And the central defensive three of Mulgrew, Ryan Edwards and McMann were more than happy to deal with hopeful crosses.
On the one occasion Morelos got his head on a delivery, Carson superbly tipped his effort over the bar.
Paying the penalty
Morelos flashed a fizzing drive over the bar from 16 yards as the hosts sought to find their flow after the break.
Carson produced a magnificent low save to protect parity, sticking out a big boot to block a point-blank Scott Wright shot.
In the resulting stramash, young Moore picked up a hefty knock which ended his afternoon prematurely.
And Rangers broke the deadlock moments later.
McMann was adjudged to have handled a Tavernier cross by referee Alan Muir. The Gers captain stepped up to slam home the resulting spot-kick.
However, Courts’ side didn’t let their heads drop and could have rescued a point with 94 minutes on the clock, but Watson saw his looping header strike the bar.