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Rangers v Dundee United verdict: Player ratings, star man and key moments as Malik Tillman puts Tangerines to the sword amid Peter Pawlett blow

Tillman was the match-winner at Ibrox as United remain rooted to the foot of the Premiership

Tillman fires home the second. Image: SNS
Tillman fires home the second. Image: SNS

Malik Tillman notched a brace to condemn Dundee United to a 2-0 defeat against Rangers.

The on-loan Bayern Munich forward struck either side of the interval to break a stubborn United resistance, with the Light Blues also rattling the bar through Ryan Kent.

The Terrors’ best effort was a shot from distance by Craig Sibbald.

United have still won just a single Premiership fixture in 2023 — against St Johnstone on January 2 — and are SIX points adrift of guaranteed safety following a win for 10th-placed Kilmarnock against Hearts.

They are two points behind Ross County, who host Celtic on Sunday.

Key moments

Mark Birighitti made a fine early save to deny James Tavernier’s powerful drive after a Borna Barisic cross squeezed through to the Gers’ captain at the far post.

Birighitti makes a block from Tavernier. Image: SNS

That was as close as the hosts would come in the early exchanges. Indeed, if Peter Pawlett has timed his final pass to Steven Fletcher with more finesse then the Tangerines may have claimed a stunning lead following a lightning counter-attack.

Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent both fired off target as the Light Blues were restricted to speculative efforts.

There was a hammer-blow for United and, more particularly, Pawlett when the midfielder fell to the turf clutching his leg.

A few consoling words followed from his old Pittodrie pal Ryan Jack before he was replaced by Kai Fotheringham.

With the natives growing increasingly restless, United created their finest chance of the first half. Fotheringham and Sibbald produced a sharp exchange of passes before the latter lashed a ferocious drive narrowly over the bar.

Tillman celebrates the opener. Image: SNS

But within three minutes, Rangers were ahead.

Todd Cantwell was the architect with a delightful flicked through-ball for Tillman — the first time United were carved open through the middle — and the American’s clinical finish beat Birighitti.

And the Terrors were indebted to the woodwork after a firecracker shot from Kent rattled the underside of the cross-bar, via the fingertips of Birighitti.

But the game was effectively put to bed 10 minutes after the break when Tillman fired through the legs of Scott McMann and under the body of Birighitti from inside the box, putting the finishing touch to a move involving Tavernier and Kent.

Fotheringham replaced Pawlett. Image: SNS

The Australia international keeper ensured the score stayed respectable when he thwarted Tavernier once more following an industrious Tillman run and cut-back.

Substitute Mathew Cudjoe warmed the palms of Allan McGregor in stoppage time but United were fortunate Rangers did not make the most of their repeated counters.

Player ratings

Dundee United (5-3-1-1): Birighitti 5; Freeman 6, Ayina 6, Edwards 7, McMann 6 (Niskanen 75), Behich 7 (Cudjoe 82); Sibbald 7, McGrath 6, Harkes 6; Pawlett (Fotheringham 20, 6); Fletcher 5 (Anaku 75). Subs not used: Newman, Graham, Djoum, Thomson, O’Donnell.

Dundee United star man: Craig Sibbald

Sibbald’s role was largely a defensive one but the former Falkirk and Livingston man turned in a tireless showing in the engine room; not an easy task, particularly when the hosts had the wind at their backs after the break.

He made seven interceptions and four tackles (the most of any player on the pitch, on both counts), and won possession on five occasions. He also created two chances, level with Jamie McGrath as United’s best tally.

Sibbald snapped into challenges all afternoon. Image: SNS

And, when given an opportunity to burst forward, Sibbald went closest to finding the net for United, shooting narrowly over the bar in the first half.

Manager under the microscope

Goodwin’s satisfaction following United’s last Premiership outing, a 1-1 draw against St Mirren, was underlined by the fact he made just one alteration — an enforced one. Kieran Freeman replaced Liam Smith.

He then called upon Fotheringham to replace the luckless Pawlett after 20 minutes.

The luckless Pawlett lasted 20 minutes. Images: SNS

Taking a leaf out of Scotland’s book against Spain, United made the centre of the pitch impassable and showed a willingness to force the Gers wide, evidently confident they could handle an aerial bombardment.

It worked well for periods during a largely attritional, scrappy first period.

However, the Tangerines struggled to muster much of a resistance after falling behind and, although Goodwin did switch to a 4-2-3-1 latterly in a bid to spark a revival, Rangers’ win was a routine one.