Saturday, January 31, 2009

Season 2008/2009: Match 16: Rangers v Dundee United

I made my first trip of the season to Ibrox today, thanks to the season ticket of a colleague who has moved to our employer's Singapore office.
I'd imagine he was a tad warmer than I was while he watched the match in his equatorial apartment, as it was a biting wind that greeted those hardy souls who turned out to watch Rangers tangle with a Dundee United side accustomed to taking points from the Old Firm.
Rangers were the brighter of the two sides early on, but struggled to break down the stubborn visitors and avoid the linesman's flag.
The line-up sent out by Walter Smith was more attack-minded than that selected in recent weeks, with Kris Boyd, Nacho Novo and John Fleck all starting, though Novo was substituted before half time having sustained what appeared to be a sprained ankle.
Dundee United, probably feeling the effects of Wednesday night's mammoth League Cup semi-final, were nonetheless well organised and coped well with everything Rangers threw at them. The longer the match went on, the more likely it seemed that the Tannadice side would hold on for at least a point.
Then, with barely 15 minutes remaining, the miniscule Fleck burst into the box, where he was hauled to the ground by Mihael Kovacevic. It takes a 17-year-old with considerable cojones to step up to the penalty spot ahead of international strikers, his club captain and players who have been playing professional football since before he was born.
The wee man made no mistake from the spot, slamming his kick to Celtic-bound Lukas Zaluska's right, the keeper diving the wrong way. So now I can say I was there when one of the most highly-regarded youngsters in British football scored his first Rangers goal.
Kyle Lafferty added a late second as Dundee United left massive gaps at the back while pursuing an equaliser.
It wasn't an astute performance from Rangers, with an apparently gifted side toiling against a determined defence, and a lack of vision shown by a midfield that should be oozing creativity. Plus points were the performances of Bougherra, Fleck and Davis, the three players who looked likeliest to create something of note for Rangers. Serious question marks remain over the defence though, with none of Bougherra's three defensive partners - Davie Weir, Kirk Broadfoot and Steven Whittaker - looking entirely convincing.
And Barry Ferguson looks increasingly like a liability - too big for his boots, determined always to be the centre of attention, but never doing anything to justify his own over-inflated view of his own worth.
Can Rangers win the title? Without a doubt. But not without some substantial improvements, and a dose of luck.

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