Rangers have the look of champions as Novo double sinks Dundee United

Last updated at 14:53 10 May 2008

Rangers slashed Celtic's lead at the summit of the Clydesdale Bank Premier

League to a single point thanks to a double from Nacho Novo against Dundee

United at Ibrox.

The striker netted with a header early on, before doubling the advantage with

an impressive volley to heap the pressure on the defending champions ahead of

their game against Hibernian tomorrow.

Mark de Vries did manage to pull a goal back for United but substitute

Jean-Claude Darcheville helped himself to a goal late on to seal the win which

keeps the destination of the title flag in Rangers' own hands for now.

Walter Smith claimed Wednesday's UEFA Cup final would not affect his team

selection for the visit of United but it was no real surprise to see the Rangers

boss make some changes from the 1-0 win over Motherwell in midweek.

Daniel Cousin, Christian Dailly and Sasa Papac all started, while Kris Boyd and

Darcheville dropped to the bench and Steven Davis was missing from the squad.

DaMarcus Beasley - initially feared out for the season after sustaining knee

ligament damage in a Champions League match in November - was named on the


United made two changes from the defeat to Aberdeen - in came David Robertson

and Mihael Kovacevic and out went Sean Dillon and Danny Swanson.

Rangers had failed in their bid to have this match postponed ahead of the clash

with Zenit St Petersburg and perhaps they were galvanised by a feeling of

injustice at the SPL's decision, or maybe they were simply energised by thoughts

of Manchester.

Whatever the reason, there was none of the edginess which had accompanied

recent league matches against Hibernian and Motherwell and the deadlock was

broken inside seven minutes.

United had proved more than a match for Rangers at Tannadice - claiming four

points from six - and had pushed Smith's men all the way in the CIS Insurance

Cup final, but they had already succumbed to defeat at Ibrox this season and

found themselves trailing at the Govan stadium again.

Novo took a tumble under pressure from Mark Kerr and won a free-kick 25 yards

out. Kevin Thomson presided over the set-piece and delivered the ball into a

packed goalmouth where Novo was waiting at the far post to nod past goalkeeper

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 the path of Novo by Cousin

and the end product was a superb left-foot volley which left Zaluska with no


Celtic's superior goal difference meant Rangers were keen to add to their tally

and Novo hooked wide as he chased his hat-trick, before Zaluska raced off his

line to close down Kirk Broadfoot at the near post.

United could have pulled a goal back when Alexander came well off his line to

clear with Hunt bearing down on goal. The ball broke to Robertson but David

Weir, celebrating his 38th birthday, came to the rescue when he nodded off the

line and to safety.

De Vries then drew a decent save from Alexander but United failed to reduce the

deficit before the half-time whistle despite their late rally.

The last thing Rangers needed with a European final looming was more injuries

and they were dealt a blow when Thomson hobbled out of the action six minutes

after the restart with a foot problem, his place taken by reserves skipper Dean


Once the action was under way again, United had a strong claim for a penalty

dismissed by referee Mike McCurry.

Weir lost the ball to Hunt before desperately tracking back into the box to

reclaim possession. Hunt went to ground under pressure from the defender but no

spot-kick was forthcoming.

At the other end, Novo squandered a great opportunity to find the back of the

net again when he pounced on a quick free-kick from Furman only to watch his

effort trundle inches past the far upright. Dailly's smart shot then struck the


United swapped Willo Flood for Swanson and he had the ball in the net, via a

deflection off Weir, with 20 minutes to go. But the effort was disallowed

because Hunt was in an offside position and deemed to be actively involved in

play despite not touching the ball.

The visitors did manage to haul themselves back into the game six minutes

later, and this time there was nothing wrong with the goal. A Danny Grainger

cross from the left found the head of De Vries and he finished well from 10


Cousin made way for Darcheville and the Frenchman helped himself to a

last-minute goal after meeting Barry Ferguson's pass and slotting home to seal

another vital win.

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