Dundee United suffered a three-minute blitz at Tannadice as Rangers emerged 2-0 winners at Tannadice.
The Tangerines enjoyed a fine first period against Michael Beale’s men, restricting the visitors to scarce opportunities and coming close through Steven Fletcher in Liam Smith.
However, the Light Blues responded after the break and found the net twice in quick succession through Fashion Sakala and Malik Tillman to end United’s three-match unbeaten run.
Courier Sport was present to analyse the action as Liam Fox’s men remain in 11th spot, albeit still level on points with Motherwell above them.
Fletcher’s first half
United’s only alteration to the side which defeated St Johnstone 1-0 was a predictable one, with the returning Steven Fletcher replacing Tony Watt.
While Watt was terrific in Perth, notching the only goal of the game, it was immediately evident why Fletcher got the nod against the Gers.
The former Sunderland, Stoke and Burnley man — facing the Light Blues for the first time since 2009 — performed like a man possessed, particularly during an all-action first-half.
Fletcher won seven duels, more than any other player on the pitch.
He led the line with aplomb and won almost every challenge against Ben Davies. He whipped two shots off target in the first period and only the fingertips of Jon McLaughlin denied him a tap-in following a Glenn Middleton cross.
Partly due to a gruelling shift up top on his own; partly due to United’s struggles after the break — Fletcher’s influence understandably waned.
The Fashion Police
Sakala was one of Rangers’ most dangerous performers in the first period, albeit Aziz Behich and Glenn Middleton did a fine job of shackling the Gers threat down the right flank.
However, the Zambian forward made hay after the interval.
He posted a signal of intent within minutes of the restart, forcing a super instinctive save from Mark Birighitti after meeting a Borna Barisic delivery.
Sakala broke the deadlock when he raced onto a Ryan Jack flick-on, out-pacing Liam Smith and evading Ryan Edwards before smashing a clinical finish into the roof of the net.
Fresh from tormenting Celtic last weekend, this was another fine display.
Sakala was key to the goal which effectively ended the game as a contest.
He met a low James Tavernier cross and only a sharp Birighitti save denied him a brace — however, United failed to clear the danger and Tillman swept a clinical finish beyond the Aussie keeper.
A theme building
Prior to kick-off in the second period, Rangers had scored 30 second half goals this term, compared to just 16 in the first period.
The Tangerines should have expected a response, particularly given the visitors were so meek and passive in the first half.
Boss Liam Fox will be frustrated that United proved unable to weather an inevitable storm.
The only silver lining is that, unlike earlier this term, there was no sign of heads going down. No capitulation. Damage was limited.
United won’t be relegated on the back of results against Rangers — nor Celtic, in their next home league match — and Fox will hope this proves to be one set-back following a fine start to their post-World Cup campaign.
Hibs and Livingston are up next on the road.
Ryan Edwards’ milestone
He is unlikely to be in celebratory mood — such is his focus on winning — but it is worth noting that Sunday’s showdown marked skipper Edwards 100th game for Dundee United.
No mean feat for a man who has made a super impact since his arrival in Dundee.
The towering Liverpudlian signed in the summer of 2020 and immediately established himself as a lynchpin in the heart of the Terrors’ defence.
Formerly of Blackpool and Plymouth, Edwards replaced Mark Reynolds as captain in November 2021 and helped the club qualify for Europe by finishing fourth in the Premiership last term.
He is out of contract this summer but shows no signs of seeking a swift exit.