Rangers rode their luck yesterday to return to the top of the Scottish Premier League, Shota Arveladze and Mikel Arteta robbing Dundee United of the point they deserved with two goals at the death.
Arteta, the man who will fill Barry Ferguson's shoes in midfield, kept up his record of scoring in every league game so far this season with a penalty in the last seconds after a breathtaking strike from Arveladze had silenced a raucous Tannadice still celebrating an equaliser from Billy Dodds.
"We gave Rangers a doing in the second half," muttered the Dundee United manager, Ian McCall, after this pulsating contest left them with nothing, which is exactly what his team have as they sit at the bottom of the table. "They murdered us for the first 25 minutes but my lads showed great character to come back."
Rangers ran out of gas in the second period and Alex McLeish admitted that contests like this will take a toll on his team as they try to focus on the twin ambitions of domestic and European campaigns, especially with Manchester United just around the corner.
"We had a tiring Champions' League game in midweek at FC Copenhagen and tiredness crept in in the second half as Dundee United started to pick off loose balls in midfield," the Rangers manager said. "If we are going to go the distance in every competition this season, we will need everyone in the squad to be strong, especially now that we have lost Barry Ferguson."
The man who came in the Ibrox door as soon as Ferguson headed out towards Blackburn, Emerson, must have wondered what he had let himself in for as he joined a frenetic occasion in the second half and still did not have the legs to meet the challenge.
It was another of McLeish's new recruits, Nuno Capucho, who broke the deadlock after just 14 minutes when he profited from Michael Mols' cutback to volley home. Had it not been for a succession of fine saves from Tony Bullock, the United keeper, then the home side could have been killed off by half-time.
He denied Mols and Arteta before the interval and then watched his counterpart, Stefan Klos, do the same on two occasion to former Rangers midfielder Charlie Miller in the second half until another ex-Gers player levelled the game with eight minutes left.
Jason Scotland's cross picked out Dodds, who steered a header beyond Klos. However, United's joy was shortlived as Arveladze responded two minutes later, controlling a header from Steven Thompson and firing a shot on the turn into the roof of the net. Mols then earned a penalty in the last minute to allow Arteta to keep his 100 per cent record.
Goals: Capucho (14) 0-1; Dodds (82) 1-1; Arveladze (85) 1-2; Arteta pen (89) 1-3.
Dundee United (4-4-2): Bullock; Griffin, Innes, Archibald, Duff; Kerr (Paterson, 87), Miller, McInnes, Robson (Dodds, 82); Samuel (Scotland, 71), McIntyre. Substitutes not used: Gallacher (gk), McCracken.
Rangers (4-3-3): Klos; Ricksen, Malcolm, Khizanishvili, Vanoli; Capucho (Emerson, 63), Arteta, Nerlinger; De Boer (Thompson, 51), Mols 7, Arveladze. Substitutes not used: McGregor (gk), Ross, Hughes.
Referee: J Underhill.
Bookings: Dundee United: McInnes, Miller. Rangers: Nerlinger.
Man of the match: Klos.
* Hearts leapfrogged above Dunfermline into third place by beating them 1-0 at Tynecastle yesterday. Dennis Wyness, who has struggled for form since moving from Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the summer, scored the winner in the 62rd minute, beating several Pars defenders before slotting home from 12 yards.
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