Rangers are back within nine points of Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic – but are “far from” where they want to be – after recovering from a slow start to beat Dundee United.
The hosts impressed in the first half but two goals in three minutes after the break dashed their hopes of exiting the relegation play-off.
Fashion Sakala burst into the box and beat Mark Birighitti to put Rangers ahead after 54 minutes, before Malik Tillman doubled the lead after the keeper denied the Zambian.
That was enough for Rangers manager Michael Beale to claim a fifth win in six games in charge, while United remain 11th – behind Motherwell on goal difference – after a first defeat in four.
“It’s the happiest I’ve been after a game because I thought as an away team we were never in danger,” Beale said.
“At half-time we talked about running further off the ball to disrupt, improve our concentration and quality. We did that and it became a very comfortable game.”
Recovering from a slow start seems to be a recurring theme under Beale as its impressive start continues. Rangers certainly seem to like giving themselves a problem to solve despite their manager’s pleas for a quick start.
United demonstrated early on why results have been waiting for them since the World Cup break. Their tactic worked in that they limited Rangers to very little, while carrying their own threat.
Steven Fletcher was instrumental in this and went close with a wide touch after a fine delivery from Glenn Middleton.
Jon McLaughlin, who came on from the start in place of Allan McGregor, then had to put his finger on another threatening Middleton cross to avoid a real chance.
Visitors simply couldn’t start with a distinct lack of penetration.
A moment just before half-time proved crucial. Liam Smith produced a lung thrust, regained possession, then rolled his effort a yard or more wide. It turned out to be expensive.
Alfredo Morelos replaced Antonio Colak at the break and whether it was that change, a hair dryer approach, different tactics or something else, we don’t know – but Rangers have been reinvented.
Sakala should have scored on a suspended delivery from Borna Barisic. But he didn’t have to wait long for his goal as he released the ball, leapt into the box and finished hard from a tight angle to break United.
Blood was detected and the killing blow was delivered quickly. James Tavernier bursts into the box and feeds Sakala, whose shot is saved. The ball broke for Tillman to go home, make another positive contribution and seal the three points.
From there, the Ibrox side galloped wide to another vital result.
Player of the match – Fashion Sakala
Rangers belatedly pass another character test – analysis
Rangers faced a true test of character with no room for error. Again, they got away with it, and quite impressively in the end.
United really impressed for a spell. It would be easy – but inaccurate – to suggest that they delivered a back-to-the-wall display in the first half. The tactics were executed to perfection with intensity, organization and commitment.
They hope to build on this in the coming weeks.
However, they faced completely different Rangers after half-time. Everything that the Ibrox team lacked was suddenly going through them. They had the tempo, the intention, the players who ran beyond and tore United apart.
Beale’s men were tested, reacted strongly and took control. It is now six games unbeaten as progress continues under the new regime.
The gap to Celtic is back at nine points and, while they will be frustrated at not being able to achieve that, there is comfort in a marked improvement over the weeks.
what they said
Dundee United manager Liam Fox: “Our form and distance were good in the first half but the game lasts 90 minutes.
“When they score goals so quickly in a row it makes it really difficult. We will learn from those mistakes and keep pushing.
“The group has been brilliant for me but we are looking to strengthen the team but, at the moment, there are no updates.”
Rangers manager Michael Beale: “It was nice to see Kemar Roofe back – he was our top scorer in the season we won the league, and he’s been lost to us for a while.
“The unfortunate side is that Antonio Colak received a blow – it was a forced change. Hopefully it won’t be long.”
United hope to get their fortunes back on track when they visit Hibernian on Saturday (1500 GMT). The next day, Rangers face Aberdeen at Hampden in the League Cup semi-final (3:00 p.m.).