Rangers have blown the chance to go top of the Premiership this afternoon after a 1-1 draw with Dundee United at Tannadice, leaving the Gers facing a huge fight to keep their title hopes alive.
The Light Blues made a single change from the midweek win over Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund, Fil Helander coming into the starting XI at the expense of Borna Barisic with Calvin Bassey sliding over to left-back.
The Gers were also without Aaron Ramsey after the Juventus loanee picked up a ‘minor knock’ in training – with the Ibrox staff confident he’ll be fit for Thursday’s return with BVB.
With the vocal Rangers fans making most of the noise, there was a pretty cagey opening spell on the pitch as both sides looked a little slack in possession.
It was Rangers who carved out the first real chance at goal, Kent weaving his way through the Arabs defence before the ball was nicked away as he drove at United keeper Benji Siegrist.
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The Light Blues started to increase the pressure and should have been awarded a penalty ten minutes in when Ross Graham clearly handled inside the area but referee Bobby Madden somehow saw nothing in it and allowed play to continue.
Replays showed the Dundee United star tried to get out the way of it but having travelled some distance, there was absolutely no reason for Madden not to have awarded the spot kick.
If only the SPFL had introduced VAR rather than kicking the can down the road.
Having been denied the penalty, Rangers should have been 1-0 up moments later, quickly breaking through Ryan Kent, but after the ball fell to Scott Arfield, the Canadian took a bit too much time to feed Morelos and the chance was gone.
Van Bronckhorst’s side were really beginning to take control of the game and were looking more and more dangerous as they pushed forward looking for the opener and it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before the Gers took the lead.
There was a narrow escape for Rangers as the first-half reached midway, poor defending from Connor Goldson gifting the hosts a chance at goal and only a block from James Tavernier would deny Ilmari Niskanen the opening goal.
That would spark a spell of dominance from the hosts as they found a foothold in the game for the first time, pressing Rangers high and putting the Light Blues under pressure deep in their own half, finding some success and winning a string of corners.
Rangers’ frailness at set-pieces would come to the fore again with 29 minutes played, Ross Graham totally outmuscling Fil Helander to nod home from a corner and give the Arabs the lead.
With a one-goal advantage, that was the cue for Tam Courts’ side to try and shut up shop and allowing Rangers to move the ball around infront of them.
United would pick up a couple of bookings in the few minutes that followed the goal, Ryan Edwards and Graham going into Bobby Madden’s book for two pretty cynical fouls as they tried to stop a Rangers attack.
As Rangers pushed forward for an equaliser before the break, there was a third booking for the hosts, Tony Watt this time picking up a yellow as United defended their lead at all costs.
It was pretty frantic stuff as Rangers flooded men forward and tried to pick their way through a packed United defence before the break but there was a real lack of quality in the final ball.
Bobby Madden started to lose control of things, inexplicably booking Morelos for being blocked by Ryan Edwards when both were miles away from the ball.
If ever there was a good time to stick money on there being a red card before the game was over, this was it.
When the teams made their way off at the break, it was clear there needed to be an improvement from Rangers in the final third if they were going to turn things around but, yet again, the referee was at the centre of attention after a Bobby Madden special.
Surprisingly, van Bronckhorst opted against any changes at the break, sticking with the XI that started the game as they faced a season-defining 45 minutes.
Dundee United would have the first chance of the second period, McGregor reacting well to deny McNulty as the former Scotland international jostled with Goldson.
The opening ten minutes should have been a real warning for the Gers bench with the Light Blues looking miles off the pace and struggling to string a couple of passes together.
There was finally a change just before the hour mark, Fashion Sakala replacing the disappointing Scott Arfield as van Bronckhorst looked to add some energy to his side’s performance.
Moments after the Zambian came on, he almost grabbed the equaliser when the tried to knock home a rebound from a fantastic stop from Siegrist.
In the midst of it all, Madden missed a second stonewall penalty for Rangers after an outrageous pull on Sakala’s jersey as he tried to finish.
The introduction of the Rangers number 30 immediately had the Light Blues on the front foot, and the Gers’ best chance came on 65 minutes, Aribo flashing the ball across goal but Morelos couldn’t divert it over the line and draw level.
Siegrist would again deny Rangers a few minutes later, getting a stroke of luck as the ball cannoned off Morelos and back off the keeper as the pressure countinued to mount on the hosts’ goal.
Amad would be introduced for the final 15 minutes or so, replacing Fil Helander with John Lundstram dropping back into a three-man central defence.
United were clinging to their lead as Rangers bombarded their penalty area and with 76 minutes on the clock, the goal the Light Blues had been working so hard for finally came; Bassey’s cut-back being side-footed into the back of the net and sending the travelling fans wild.
The Nigerian’s strike set up a grandstand finale with Rangers desperate to avoid dropping points that could prove to be the difference in the title race.
Amad had the chance to make himself a huge hero at Ibrox, bursting through the Arabs’ defence and going one-on-one with Siegrist but the Manchester United loanee’s effort cracked the outside of the near post when he should have gone across the keeper.
Rangers were throwing everything at gettiing the winner, keeping the hosts pinned back in their own area but the second goal just wouldn’t come and the Light Blues will likely be left counting the cost of a poor afternoon on Tayside.
Dundee United: Siegrist, Smith, Mulgrew, Niskanen, McNulty, Edwards, Butcher, Levitt, Harkes, Graham, Watt
Subs: Eriksson, Clark, Akinola, Meekison, Neilson, Freeman, Mochrie, Moore, MacLeod
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Helander, Bassey, Jack, Lundstram, Aribo, Arfield, Kent, Morelos.
Subs: McCrorie, Zukowski, Barisic, Davis, Kamara, Sands, Amad, Roofe, Fashion Jr.