Rangers 3, Dundee Utd 1: Novo hits double to keep Rangers title tilt on track

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The Independent Football

Rangers maintained their momentum in their marathon pursuit of a four-trophy haul and moved to within a point of Celtic at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League thanks to a double from Nacho Novo.

The striker scored with a header early on, before doubling the advantage with an impressive volley. Mark de Vries pulled a goal back for United but Jean-Claude Darcheville came off the bench to seal a win that heaps the pressure on the defending champions before their game against Hibernian today and keeps the destination of the title in Rangers' own hands.

Rangers were unhappy at having to squeeze eight games, including the Uefa Cup final against Zenit St Petersburg and the Scottish Cup final against Queen of the South, into three weeks in their pursuit of an unprecedented quartet of trophies, but Walter Smith, their manager, could smile after this second successive League victory.

It was the turn of his opposite number, Craig Levein, to be angry after a match in which he thought the referee, Mike McCurry, had dealt his side short by failing to award a penalty and then disallowing a goal for offside.

"I'm furious, honestly," Levein told BBC Radio Scotland. "Here today we had a blatant penalty and he bottled it, and I thought Mike McCurry was one of the guys who had the balls to stand up and give these decisions, but he bottled it."

The Rangers defender David Weir, on his 38th birthday, was involved in both incidents, challenging Noel Hunt in the first before deflecting a long shot by Danny Swanson into his own net but being saved from embarrassment by an offside flag against a player who did not touch the ball.

Levein confronted McCurry on the touchline after the Swanson strike was disallowed. "I said, 'What's the point us turning up here, what's the point in us playing'?" Levein explained. "If there's not a level playing field and we don't get the blatant, important decisions, what's the point in us turning up?"

Levein's anger was of no consequence to Rangers and Smith, who made changes from the side that beat Motherwell 1-0 on Wednesday. Daniel Cousin, Christian Dailly and Sasa Papac all started, while Kris Boyd and Darcheville dropped to the bench and Steven Davis was omitted from the squad. DaMarcus Beasley – initially feared out for the season with knee ligament damage – was on the bench.

Dundee United had already lost at Ibrox this season and quickly found themselves behind. Novo took a tumble under pressure from Mark Kerr and won a free-kick 25 yards out. Kevin Thomson delivered the ball into a packed goalmouth where Novo was at the far post to nod past Lukasz Zaluska.

The little striker then claimed his second of the day after 18 minutes. A long ball from goalkeeper Neil Alexander was nodded into his path by Cousin and he scored with a left-foot volley.

Celtic's superior goal difference meant Rangers were keen to add to their tally but it was United who nearly scored next, Alexander coming off his line to clear with Hunt bearing down on goal. De Vries then drew a decent save from Alexander but United failed to reduce the deficit before the half-time whistle.

The last thing Rangers needed was more injuries but Thomson hobbled out of the action six minutes after the restart with a foot problem.

They were spared more problems when United's penalty claim was refused, and Swanson's effort was disallowed. But the visitors did haul themselves into the game six minutes later, a Danny Grainger cross from the left being headed in by De Vries from 10 yards.

Rangers held on and Darcheville, on for fellow Frenchman Cousin, helped himself to a last-minute goal. Meeting Barry Ferguson's pass he slotted home to seal another vital win.