Kris Boyd and Allan McGregor were the Rangers heroes last night as they played pivotal parts in winning the CIS Cup, ending a trophy drought at Ibrox that had lasted almost three years. Boyd has long been an enigma, making a truism of the oxymoron that he does nothing but score goals. But he netted in normal and extra time to drag Rangers back into a game they trailed 1-0 and 2-1 against opposition whose character and attitude deserved a draw at least, and then he scored the decisive spot-kick in a penalty shootout to secure the cup.
McGregor, who has grown in stature hugely this season with some match-winning performances, made two crucial saves in the shoot-out, including stopping United's fifth penalty, by their captain Lee Wilkie, to leave Boyd one kick to convert for glory.
The outcome for United, as their manager, Craig Levein, accurately described it afterwards, was "cruel". Not just because they had a "stonewall" penalty denied them when 1-0 up. It really did look a certainty, but the referee, Kenny Clark, somehow failed to notice Carlos Cuellar wrestling Christian Kalvenes to the floor in the box. It was also deeply upsetting for Levein that his men had been unable to hold on to gift the silverware to their club chairman and benefactor, Eddie Thompson. Thompson's terminal cancer has spread to his bones and brain but he still took his place in the stands to support his beloved United.
"I feel like I've been 50 rounds with Muhammad Ali," Levein said afterwards. "What a cruel way to lose. I want to be positive about the performance, but I feel so sick for everyone associated with the club. We played probably our best game of the season against a very good side. I'm so gutted."
Rangers won the cup, for a 25th time, to give them a 108th trophy in their history, but, crucially, the first since 2005. Their renaissance under Walter Smith has been a stirring story for supporters who hope this triumph marks the first page in a glorious new chapter. Rangers are also favourites this season for the SPL and the Scottish Cup and are in the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup.
"It was a terrific cup final and a terrific achievement," Smith said. "In the circumstances of playing this after a tiring game in Germany in the Uefa Cup on Thursday night, I'm delighted and it speaks volumes for my players." Smith was frank about Boyd's limitations. "There's more he needs to do with his all-round play," he said. "It's frustrating for me as a manager [that he needs to work harder]. It's frustrating for him, sitting on the bench." But Smith added: "If you get the ball in the box, he'll get goals."
If Smith learns anything from this win, it might be that for such an important occasion playing at least one recognised striker from the start might be a way to threaten a goal. But of his front men Boyd started on the bench, as did Jean-Claude Darcheville, while Nacho Novo was suspended, Steve Naismith cup-tied and Daniel Cousin injured.
Until Darcheville replaced the midfielder Brahim Hemdani at half-time, and Boyd arrived 15 minutes later, Rangers rarely threatened. United went ahead when Noel Hunt, already denied by one fine McGregor save, scrapped the ball across the line in a tussle with Steven Davis.
Cuellar manhandled Kalvenes eight minutes into the second half, a time when a second United goal might have broken Rangers. Boyd made it 1-1 after a long period of Rangers pressure following a sloppy, under-hit back pass by Mark Kerr during a mêlée in the area.
Mark De Vries put United back ahead early in extra time, and Boyd levelled again, with his head, from Davis' cross late on. So to penalties, silverware and tears all round.
Goals: Hunt (34) 1-0; Boyd (85) 1-1; De Vries (95) 2-1; Boyd (113) 2-2.
Rangers (4-2-3-1): McGregor; Broadfoot, Cuellar, Weir, Papac (Boyd, 61); Dailly, Hemdani (Darcheville, h-t); Davis, Ferguson, Burke (Whittaker, 116); McCulloch. Substitutes not used: Alexander (gk), Thomson.
Dundee United (4-4-2): Zaluska; Kovacevic, Wilkie, Kenneth, Kalvenes; Buaben, Kerr, Flood, Gomis (Robertson, 97); De Vries, Hunt (Conway, 79). Substitutes not used: McLean (gk), Dods, Dillon.
Referee: K Clark.
Booked: Rangers Broadfoot, McCulloch. Dundee United Kalvenes.
Man of the match: Boyd.
Attendance: 50,019.Reuse content