Antonio Colak celebrated his 29th birthday with a double as Rangers ended a three-game losing streak with a stodgy 2-1 cinch Premiership win over bottom side Dundee United at Ibrox.
The returning Croatia striker took only eight minutes to fire in the opener but the home fans were unimpressed by their side’s frustratingly pedestrian play for much of the rest of the game.
Colak doubled the Light Blues’ lead four minutes after the restart but still there was a lack of real urgency and Tannadice defender Liam Smith reduced the deficit in the 59th minute to ensure a nervy last half-hour.
Rangers moved to within two points of in-form leaders Celtic, who travel to St Mirren on Sunday, but they will need to find much better form after the international break.
United, once again under the charge of caretaker boss Liam Fox, are still seeking a first league win of the season but will take encouragement from aspects of their play.
Despite an improved Gers performance against Napoli in midweek, the 3-0 defeat in the Champions League at Ibrox meant 11 goals conceded and none scored in three games, thus anything other than a victory against the Taysiders was unthinkable.
Allan McGregor remained in goal with Jon McLaughlin still injured but Colak took over from Alfredo Morelos, with 18-year-old Leon King in for James Sands and 20-year-old midfielder Charlie McCann making his first league start.
Veteran striker Steven Fletcher was absent from the visitors’ squad with a thigh complaint, replaced by former Gers winger Glenn Middleton.
Before the game Dundee United fans disrupted the minute’s silence in memory of the Queen which led to some rancour. Boos and some chanting could be heard emanating from the corner of the stadium which housed several hundred Terrors supporters.
Rangers pounded the United defence from the kick-off and Ryan Kent and Scott Arfield missed chances before Colak struck.
Skipper James Tavernier drove forward after robbing Ian Harkes and picked out the striker, who took a touch into the penalty area before driving low past United keeper Carljohan Eriksson for his eighth goal of the season.
The expected onslaught failed to materialise.
United came back into the game but Arfield passed up another opportunity when played in by Ryan Jack, missing the target with his drive from 16 yards.
Back came the Tannadice side again to the exasperation of the home fans and McGregor used his foot to stop Middleton’s right-footed drive.
There was a United penalty claim early in the second half when attacker Tony Watt went down under pressure from Gers left-back Borna Barisic but referee Kevin Clancy took no action.
Barisic was then involved in the second Gers goal, his cross from the left knocked in at the near post by Colak.
However, moments after Sadat Anaku replaced Middleton, the United substitute was involved in the build-up to their goal with Jamie McGrath playing in Smith, whose low drive came off McGregor and flew high into the net.
Anxiety gripped Ibrox tight and groans were never far away as fans recalled the ease in which Celtic won 9-0 win at Tannadice last month.
Manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst took action and Arfield and Jack were replaced by Scott Wright and Malik Tillman in the 69th minute and, as the play stretched, Eriksson made saves from both newcomers but it was Rangers who were glad to hear the final whistle.
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