For 90 minutes, followers of Rangers indulged in things fans should concern themselves with: berate a referee – there was plenty of that; whinge about misplaced passes – no shortage there either; and celebrate goals.
Yet the overwhelming emotion inside Ibrox at full-time was shock, after David Goodwillie's 90th-minute strike claimed an astonishing victory for Dundee United by the odd goal in five.
In these warped times, balance sheets and buyouts relating to Rangers feature more in column inches than anything else. More pressing to the majority of punters flooding out of Ibrox was the loss of three points and the passing up of a chance to return to the top of the Scottish Premier League with Celtic inactive. United are due immense credit for twice recovering from being a goal behind, but Rangers were punished for sluggishness.
A larger crowd than the Glasgow club might have anticipated for such a fixture, and a noisier welcome, awaited the home side before kick-off. Such matters resonate in part because this was Rangers' first outing since defeating Celtic to claim the League Cup. Walter Smith retained the 4–4–2 approach that succeeded against Rangers's rivals. The home support was therefore afforded a rare glimpse of El Hadji Diouf and Nikica Jelavic as a forward partnership.
Unfortunately for Smith, the rest of his team virtually picked itself. Lee McCulloch, Madjid Bougherra and Vladimir Weiss were among a clutch of first-team regulars unavailable to Rangers because of injury. With Smith only having a tight squad at his disposal to start with, that has led to a meaningful strain on resources. As if to prove that, Rangers could only name five substitutes here.
United had enjoyed a fine run of form before crumbling at Motherwell on Scottish Cup business on Wednesday night. They opened in promising fashion at Ibrox, before being undone by inexcusable defensive generosity. Given Jelavic is clearly Rangers's best attacker, and by a considerable distance, it would seem logical that United mark him at a set-play. Instead, the Croat was left all alone to head home Diouf's free-kick. United had questioned the award for a foul on Jelavic in the first place, with their manager Peter Houston rightly diverting his anger towards his own backline thereafter.
It seemed inevitable that Rangers's makeshift central defensive partnership of Steven Whittaker and David Weir would suffer. Such sentiment was endorsed by the willingness of Rangers to let United enjoy so much first-half possession. An equaliser duly arrived seconds before the interval. Danny Swanson skipped past Weir, then Whittaker, before playing in David Robertson. The midfielder's angled finish matched Swanson's build-up work.
Another set-piece edged Rangers back in front. United were again lax in not properly clearing Diouf's corner, with Steven Naismith on hand to drill home a half-volley. United's restoration of parity for a second time owed plenty to a wonderful cross from the left touchline, supplied by Paul Dixon, which Johnny Russell powerfully headed past Allan McGregor.
Whittaker had clipped the United crossbar with a header moments before the goal that won the game. From that Rangers corner, the visitors broke rapidly upfield. Morgaro Gomis played in Goodwillie, the one player Rangers did not want in this position, with the talented young striker running 60 yards in isolation before offering a cool finish.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010