Fashion Sakala and Malik Tillman fire Rangers to victory over Dundee United

Rangers' Fashion Sakala (centre) opens the scoring against Dundee United (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

Rangers’ Fashion Sakala (centre) opens the scoring against Dundee United (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

Rangers stepped up after half-time to beat Dundee United 2-0 in their minor Premiership fixture at Tannadice.

The visitors were well below par in a goalless first half, but two strikes from Fashion Sakal and Malik Tillman within two minutes soon after the restart settled nerves and allowed the Gers to see out the game with some control and confidence.

Michael Beale has now taken 16 points from 18 since taking over from Giovanni van Bronckhorst in November as Light Blues boss as his squad strengthen each week.

However, in-form Celtic are still nine points clear of their bitter rivals at the top of the table, boasting a significantly better goal difference and remain overwhelming favorites to retain their title.

Liam Fox’s improving United side had lost just one of their five games before the visit of Rangers, and while they remain at the other end of the table, they can take some help from their first half.

Beale saw Antonio Colak for the first time since becoming Gers boss, the Croatian striker returning for the first time since November 9 after recovering from a calf problem.

Jon McLaughlin replaced Allan McGregor in goal with midfielder Ryan Jack replacing Glen Kamara, while United striker Tony Watt dropped for Steven Fletcher, who returned from illness.

The former Hibernian, Wolves and Sunderland forward impressed with an otherwise nondescript start to the match, including a curling shot from the edge of the box in the 18th minute that flew over the crossbar.

The visitors didn’t do much until then, apart from Colak’s run which was comfortably saved by United goalkeeper Mark Birighitti.

In the 21st minute, Fletcher came close to volleying a Glenn Middleton cross, although referee Steven McLean awarded a corner that appeared to hit the arm of Rangers defender Connor Goldson – the subject of a controversial handball penalty incident against Celtic that went unpunished – but there was no review VAR.

McLaughlin soon had to deal with a dangerous Middleton center as John Lundstram completed the clearance.

United were well organized and disciplined and a 41st-minute counter-attack ended with defender Liam Smith curling a shot from the edge of the box just wide of the post after a move he had sparked by robbing Colak, who had been replaced by Alfredo. Morelos to start the second half.

Rangers almost took the lead in the 49th minute when Sakala got to Borna Barisic’s cross at the back post but his volley was blocked by Birighitti.

McLaughlin saved another decent run from Fletcher before the Govan men went ahead in the 54th minute.

Barisic’s pass from the left was cleared by Jack and Sakala calmed down in the box and fired high over the Tannadice keeper.

United were still processing the blow when, after Birighitti had saved Sakala from close range, Tillman fired the rebound into the net from the box and the home side had faith.

Gers forward Kemar Roofe replaced Tillman in the 78th minute to make his first appearance since October after recovering from injury to give the Ibrox outfit another boost.

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