Football: Dundee United ready to break their duck: Golac plots the wrecking of Rangers' bid for the Treble

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WITH a penchant for quoting rock lyrics and encouraging his players to commune with nature, Ivan Golac is a renaissance man among managers. Eminently qualified, it seems, to address the historical and psychological aspects of Dundee United's attempt to wrest the Scottish Cup from Rangers in today's final at Hampden Park.

United have never won the Cup, despite contesting six finals in the past two decades, and the trophy has not gone to Tayside for 84 years. The story goes that when Dundee exhibited the Cup in a shop window display after the 1910 final, a gypsy took offence at such ostentation and placed a curse on the jute city's footballers.

The record of meetings between themselves and Rangers offers equally unpromising portents for United. In 21 League Cup and Scottish Cup matches, the Ibrox club have not lost so much as an away leg.

Given that Walter Smith's team stand on the brink of history themselves - what would be an unprecedented second successive Treble - there is almost a case for Golac taking United bird- watching rather than silverware-hunting. Yet there is currently a staleness about the champions, who won none of their last five League games, that can only hearten the underdogs.

Rangers' tired look may reflect the fact that several players have undergone surgery since they beat Aberdeen in last year's final. Smith's personnel problems, exacerbated by the Duncan Ferguson 'head-butting' saga, have not abated. Deprived of John Brown, he will give a late fitness test to Dave McPherson before deciding who partners the increasingly fallible Richard Gough.

There is a bigger question mark over the condition of Trevor Steven, which means it could be a case of perming two from Steven, Durrant, Durie, Mikhailichenko, Huistra and Murray for the wide midfield roles. What is not in doubt though is Rangers' ability, epitomised by Ally McCoist, to lift their game.

Last autumn a palpably unfit McCoist came off the bench to win the League Cup final against Hibernian with an overhead kick, his first goal in six months. Smith laughed it off as luck, but United should not underestimate the holders' capacity for rising to the occasion.

No one could accuse Golac of being negative. Not only has he dismissed talk of a 'Hampden hoodoo', he has banned it. United did, after all, win their semi-final with Aberdeen at the national stadium, and most of the players involved today did not share in the past failures under Jim McLean.

Now, encouraged by the knowledge that they have done better than most against Rangers this season, winning 3-0 at Ibrox, Golac has apparently decided to go for broke. Having predicted that United will win 3-1 - a modest margin, he felt, considering Partizan Belgrade won their first final under him 6-1 - his selection and strategy are expected to show a strong attacking bias.

At the risk of putting blue noses out of joint, Scottish football needs a United victory. Their chances of getting one were reduced by the suspension which sidelines their most influential midfielder, Billy McKinlay. Though even that blow did not have Golac ruing malign fate, it surely tipped the balance towards Rangers.

Golac remains confident that the defensive class of his fellow former Yugoslav, Gordan Petric, will more than compensate. He also wants to see 'six or seven players' converging on Ally Maxwell's goal. And why not? Whatever happens, United will be in the Cup-Winners' Cup. They have nothing to lose but their unhappy Hampden habit.

Dundee United (probable: 4-3-3): Van de Kamp; Cleland, Welsh, Petric, Malpas; Bowman, McInally, Hannah; Brewster, McLaren, Dailly.

Rangers (probable: 4-4-2): Maxwell; Stevens, Gough, McPherson, D Robertson; Durrant, I Ferguson, McCall, Durie; Hateley, McCoist.