ANALYSIS: Dundee United’s Ibrox return was light years away from that memorable visit in 2014
It was only six and a half years ago but it seems like light years away.by Ian Roache
It was the day Dundee United fans took over Ibrox in a way not even Celtic supporters have managed during their dominance of Scottish football.
There was an 11,000-strong tangerine-clad army that curved around Rangers’ stadium, which had been dressed up as a neutral venue for the occasion.
The meeting was the Scottish Cup semi-final between Jackie McNamara’s talent-packed team and a “home” side then in League One and managed by Ally McCoist.
United were pre-match favourites and repaid the bookies’ faith in them with a comfortable 3-1 win, the highlight being Nadir Ciftci’s goal celebration before he had actually fired the ball into the empty net.
Few of us there on April 12, 2014 imagined it would be so long before the two teams went toe to toe again.
We all expected Rangers to make it back to the top flight eventually, of course.
However, when looking out at Andy Robertson, Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Gauld, Gary Mackay-Steven et al, none of us predicted a relegation for the Tangerines within a couple of years, never mind such a long and winding road to get back up again.
The Light Blues would head up the way as United came down and never the twain did meet…until Saturday.
Fast forward to these coronavirus-ravaged times and the players ran out to an empty stadium rather than the electric atmosphere of the cup clash.
Talk of this being a grudge match was always nonsense and the absence of supporters ensured the lack of any history-fuelled animosity.
Instead, this fixture was about one team having better players than the other. In that sense, it was like the semi-final but with the roles reversed in Rangers’ favour.
United tried to give it a go, with manager Micky Mellon trying to play high up the pitch by using Peter Pawlett on the left and Luke Bolton on the right to support striker Nicky Clark.
Their biggest problem was that they never saw nearly enough of the ball in the forward area. That was also the case for their previous 4-0 drubbing, just a fortnight agao at Kilmarnock.
The midfield, as a whole, had an off-day and United’s players got bogged down when trying to break, gave away possession too easily and spent most of the time chasing after men in blue jerseys.
There was a lack of creativity from the centre of the park, no quarter-back playmaker to pick out the killer pass and vary the play. That issue may be addressed before the transfer window closes.
By contrast, the Light Blues were slick and quick with the ball at their feet, finding plenty of room on the left flank in particular.
The Tannadice men could do nothing to stop Scotland’s player of the month Ryan Kent dropping marker Calum Butcher, taking a return pass from Ianis Hagi then picking his spot past goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist for the first goal on 13 minutes.
Then Borna Barisic, who probably should have won that particular award, found space on the left before battering a cross off United’s Luke Bolton. That deflection merely made the ball harder to deal with for the defence and James Tavernier arrived at the back post to fire home.
Two down at the break, United hooked midfielder Dillon Powers and replaced him with Logan Chalmers but that didn’t alter the flow of the match.
Kemar Roofe redirected a Scott Arfield shot past Siegrist to make it 3-0 then Arfield got the fourth himself, collecting a Hagi pass before picking his spot.
United’s best two attempts came when they were three and four down respectively, with Ian Harkes smacking the bar with a strike from the edge of the box then substitute Lawrence Shankland firing past the near post in the closing minutes.
That all meant the home side had beaten a 114-year-old shutout record by keeping seven straight clean sheets to start a top-flight league season.
And the display was all the more impressive considering the injuries Rangers suffered.
They lost Leon Balogun in the warm-up, while Ryan Jack, Brandon Barker and then sub Alfredo Morelos all had to go off.
Morelos was tackled by United defender Ryan Edwards, who got purchase on the ball before his foot carried through and caught the striker on the knee. The striker was taken away on a stretcher and Ibrox boss Steven Gerrard wasn’t happy, although he did fall short of claiming Edwards should have been sent off.
Gerrard said: “I don’t want to make headlines and say a kid should have got this or that,” he said.
“I don’t want to be that type of manager but I would be very interested to see what the decision would have been from the officials had the shoe been on the other foot and Alfredo had made that tackle.”
United boss Micky Mellon didn’t get mixed up in any of that conspiracy talk. He had enough on his plate.
Mellon said: “I am disappointed with the scoreline, there are no two ways about that.
“I want people to know that.
“I am responsible for the team and we have had a 4-0 defeat.
“We will suffer because of this result because of our pride and we want to be better but we are realistic and knew we would have the ultimate test here against quality opposition.
“It is my job as the manager to look at it and go away and work on improvements.
“We have come up from the Championship to a level above and we are learning lessons. Those can be harsh lessons because you get punished for every slip you make.
“I think we can improve on everything we do.”