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Rangers 2-0 Dundee United

Highlights: Rangers v Dundee United

By Clive Lindsay

Seventeen-year-old John Fleck scored his first goal for Rangers as they secured a hard-fought victory over in-form Dundee United.

Fleck took the penalty he won after a nudge in the back by Mihael Kovacevic as the forward thrust into the United box after 78 minutes.

The teenager had tested goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska with a first-half drive and Kris Boyd curled an effort wide.

Kyle Lafferty slotted in the second as United were caught pushing for a reply.

It meant that Rangers reduced the gap at the top of the Scottish Premier League to a point ahead of leaders and champions Celtic facing Inverness Caley Thistle on Sunday.

Rangers were coming off the back of their midweek Co-operative Insurance Cup success, although Walter Smith freshened up his side by introducing Steven Whittaker and John Fleck for Sasa Papac and Steven Naismith after their semi-final victory over Falkirk.

Darren Dods and Danny Grainger took the places of Lee Wilkie and Paul Dixon after United's exhausting semi-final defeat by Celtic on penalties on Wednesday.

United had also suffered a blow on Friday, with lively midfielder Willo Flood being transferred to Celtic.

But it was the visitors who looked the more sprightly in the early stages, and Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor held well after Flood's replacement, David Robertson, burst into the box to meet a long throw-in and stab the ball towards goal from 14 yards.

Rangers began to threaten and a superb thrusting run from Nacho Novo, retaining his place after two goals on Tuesday, set up Kris Boyd, but his strike partner curled the ball wide of the post from the edge of the box.

Zaluska produced a fine finger-tip save to deny Fleck and, from the corner, David Weir was too slow to pounce on the loose ball eight yards from goal.

Novo signalled to the Rangers bench that his game was over with a hamstring injury shortly before half time, and the off-form Kenny Miller was given the chance to shine.

Nacho Novo looks in pain
Rangers striker Novo went off injured before half-time

United were the first to threaten after the break; Warren Feeney's low, driven cross was missed by both Weir's attempted clearance and Robertson's late lunge to poke the ball home from seven yards.

But that was to be a rare foray into the Rangers box by the visitors, who were stifling their hosts in midfield, though a hitch-kick by Boyd and a scuffed effort from Whittaker failed to trouble the United goalkeeper.

Misfiring Boyd was replaced with Kyle Lafferty and there was a close call for United when the Northern Ireland international fired past Zaluska only to be ruled offside.

Fleck scored moments later, but Kovacevic had the chance to redeem himself for conceding the penalty only to head over from 10 yards following a corner.

Miller and Lafferty both squandered chances to extend Rangers' lead before the latter took advantage of United pushing for an equaliser to stroke the ball home from 20 yards.

Rangers manager Walter Smith:

"We had very few opportunities until that last 20 minutes.

"John Fleck was brought down for the penalty and that picked us up a bit and it made Dundee United come at us after that.

"John is a quiet lad, but it was good to see him have the confidence to step up and take the penalty with Kris Boyd already off the field.

"Nacho Novo has a badly sprained ankle, but it doesn't look like anything is broken and it looks like two or three weeks out for him."

Dundee United manager Craig Levein:

"I felt there was nothing in the game until the penalty, when I thought Mihael did well to get back to him.

"Both players had their hands across one another and I think the Rangers player has lost control of the ball and has gone down very easily.

"Overall, I am relatively pleased with the way we were able retain our energy levels throughout the match.

"But maybe Wednesday's game prevented us having that bit extra needed to get an equaliser."

Rangers: McGregor, Broadfoot, Bougherra, Weir, Whittaker, Davis, Mendes, Ferguson, Fleck, Novo (Miller 43), Boyd (Lafferty 74). Subs not used: Alexander, Papac, McCulloch, Naismith, Niguez.

Booked: Fleck.

Goals: Fleck 78 pen, Lafferty 90.

Dundee Utd: Zaluska, Kovacevic, Dods, Kenneth, Grainger, Feeney, Gomis, Buaben, David Robertson (Daly 80), Conway (Swanson 57), Sandaza (Goodwillie 70). Subs not used: McGovern, Dillon, Shala, Dixon.

Booked: Grainger.

Att: 49,918

Ref: I Brines

BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Rangers' John Fleck 8.83 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.

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see also
Levein aiming for two new faces
31 Jan 09 |  Dundee Utd
SPL as it happened
31 Jan 09 |  Scottish Premier
SPL photo gallery
31 Jan 09 |  Scottish Premier

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