Dundee United dumped Rangers out of the Scottish Cup thanks to a stunning performance that was as comfortable as it was convincing.
Peter Houston’s side eased through to this afternoon’s quarter-final draw courtesy of two first-half goals by the recalled Gavin Gunning and Johnny Russell.
The expected backlash in the second 45 from the defending SPL champions never materialised capping a miserable week for the Light Blues which saw them lose top-scorer Nikica Jelavic to Everton and financial uncertainty continue.
The home support was noticeable only for its absence, with a paltry 17,822 crowd inside Ibrox as the Rangers fans voted with their feet to show what they think of the current turmoil at their club.
However, the Glasgow outfit’s problems should not be allowed to detract from United’s achievement in winning in Govan.
A delighted Peter Houston admitted he was concerned that after establishing their first-half lead, his side would sit back too much in the second 45.
He said: ”I thought we went at Rangers right from the off and scored two good first-half goals. Sometimes when you have a 2-0 lead, you sit back a bit and that can invite trouble. But I didn’t let them do that in the second half. I was on at them constantly to keep squeezing up.
”I think we stopped Rangers from creating the chances they are capable of. We got into their faces and stopped them playing. I also felt we were dangerous on the counter-attack.
”I still think my priority is to secure a top-six place in the SPL but we look forward to the cup and it is great for the fans, who were terrific today.”
United goalscoring hero Russell revealed Houston had told the players to set a high tempo to unsettle Rangers.
He said: ”I was a bit surprised by the low crowd but I thought our fans that travelled through were magnificent.
“I wouldn’t say it was a comfortable win as it was a very hard game. The gaffer told us to get into their faces straight away and not to let them get their passing game going.
”I’m just glad that we got the result. We’ll now look forward to the draw and just take it each round as it comes.”
Russell, who was linked with a possible move to Rangers’ Old Firm rivals last week, added: ”It is good to hear that other clubs are interested in you, especially massive ones like Celtic. But the best place for me right now is Dundee United. I still have so much to learn in the game and I am really happy here.”
A grim-faced Rangers boss Ally McCoist admitted the continuing uncertainty surrounding the club and its ongoing tax case with HMRC was crippling Rangers.
He said: ”It was a really disappointing day and I thought the defending at both goals was really, really poor. But you have to give credit to Dundee United. We lacked a wee bit of quality to open up United and that was also disappointing.”
When asked if there was a crisis at Rangers now, he said: ”I think the crisis point comes with the tax case. I think that is the biggest problem the club faces. We need clarification on what’s happening so we can move forward.”
Houston made one change from the side that drew with Motherwell two weeks ago with Gunning coming in for Sean Dillon who took a place on the bench.
United raced out of the traps with skipper Jon Daly epitomising their early commitment when he didn’t hold back in a 50-50 challenge inside the Rangers box with home keeper Allan McGregor.
The Rangers defence looked nervous, especially every time the dangerous Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven were on the ball and it was the latter who was the provider at the opening goal on 15 minutes.
McGregor had done well to palm away a dangerous driven cross by John Rankin after a corner but the ball then found its way to Mackay-Steven on the United right.
He in turn sent an inch-perfect delivery back into the Rangers box for Gunning, who had remained up front, to bullet a header past the helpless McGregor from six yards.
Houston’s side had no time to rest on their laurels, though, with Sone Aluko turning Garry Kenneth inside out in the United box before drawing an excellent acrobatic save from Dusan Pernis with a fierce shot from 10 yards.
It was Pernis to the rescue again in the 24th minute as he dived full stretch to fingertip away a shot from the edge of his box by David Healy.
However, United deservedly doubled their advantage in the 35th minute.
Paul Dixon galloped down the United and played a one-two with Mackay-Steven before playing an incisive pass into the feet of Russell. He was completely unmarked and the Scotland Under-21 man made no mistake, coolly thumping the ball past the defenceless McGregor.
Rangers looked for a response but, with none coming, they trooped off at half-time to a chorus of boos.
The theme music from the Great Escape was played over the stadium tannoy during the break and, to help orchestrate that attempt at getting back into the game, McCoist threw on Salim Kerkar in place of the anonymous Mervan Celik at the start of the second 45.
The home support were expecting a big response from their favourites but the Rangers players continued to look nervous and hesitant as United soaked up the little they tried to throw at them.
Referee Collum booked Dorin Goian for a shocking challenge on Mackay-Steven and, from the resulting free-kick, Garry Kenneth had a great chance to make it three for the Tangerines when Daly directed the ball back to the unmarked centre-half but he could not produce enough power with his header to beat McGregor.
Rangers finally created a half-chance on 71 minutes when Aluko made some space for himself down the right before cutting the ball back to substitute Andrew Little, but he shot wildly over.
Shortly after, Little was involved in a sickening clash of heads with Gunning. Both players needed treatment for cuts.
With McCoist having put on all his substitutes, the Ibrox faithful were hoping for a grandstand finish as the clock ticked down. Instead, their side continued to huff and puff to no great effect and it was the United fans celebrating a famous win.
Photos by David Davies/PA Wire