Rangers 2 Dundee Utd 0: Burke lifts Rangers above oldest rivals

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The Independent Online

Walter Smith celebrated a year in charge back at Rangers by watching his team secure the victory that took them to the top of the SPL. They took advantage of Celtic's inactivity, as goals from Steven Naismith and Barry Ferguson pushed them a point clear of their rivals.

Celtic's match at Motherwell today was cancelled in the wake of the tragic death of Phil O'Donnell last week. Rangers won without even having to get out of second gear and even Alan Hutton, who turned down an 8 million move to Spurs, seemed subdued.

The events just seven days earlier, which shook Scottish football to the core, must have been heavily on the minds of the Dundee United side. They had watched O'Donnell die on the pitch at Fir Park and then attended the Motherwell captain's funeral on Friday.

That understandable distraction was evident in their play in the first half. Craig Levein's team abandoned the defensive organisation that has been the hallmark under the former Scotland centre-back and conceded two headed goals to simple crosses.

The first came after only nine minutes, when Chris Burke ended a patient move by cutting in from the right wing and picking out Naismith with a cross that was met by the striker who powered it beyond the goalkeeper, Euan McLean.

Rangers were rarely asked any questions by a side that defeated them at Tannadice in October. The closest the visitors came in the first half was when Noel Hunt's attempted lob drifted just wide. Six minutes before the interval, Rangers doubled their lead. Burke was again the provider, this time from the left wing, floating a delivery that allowed Ferguson to glance the ball firmly past McLean.

With the sting removed from the contest, the second half was predictable. Rangers sat back, trying to keep possession, while the visitors lacked a cutting edge.

Carlos Cuellar produced a vital tackle to stop United's Morgaro Gomis bursting through with 10 minutes left. Rangers then ended the game with a flurry of chances, as twice the United keeper produced remarkable saves from two Ferguson efforts but the best save of all was reserved for a penalty kick from Kris Boyd in the last minute. The Rangers substitute was given the chance when Burke's run created havoc and Nacho Novo was adjudged to have been pushed. McLean dived to his left to keep out Boyd's kick, and his follow-up.

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