Rangers beat United for perfect UEFA Cup Final boost
(AFP) - Nacho Novo was Rangers hero as they achieved the perfect pre-UEFA Cup Final boost with a 3-1 victory over Dundee United in the Scottish Premier League on Saturday.
Two early goals from the Spaniard, the second a sensational strike from 20-yards, and a late Jean-Claude Darcheville goal - after Mark de Vries had pulled one back for the visitors - secured the win.
The result also means the Ibrox side are now only a point behind SPL leaders Celtic, having played a game less.
Only an injury to Kevin Thomson, who limped off early in the second half days ahead of Wednesday's UEFA Cup Final against FC Zenit St Petersburg, dampened the spirits of the Rangers fans in the 50,293 crowd.
But there was plenty of controversy to anger United manager Craig Levein after his side had a strong penalty claim waved away and a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside.
Rangers manager Walter Smith, though, was just happy to get the three points.
He said: "We started the game well, looked bright, played good football, scored from a free-kick and Nacho then scored a great second to give us breathing space.
"United came back into it in the second half so I was delighted to get the third goal.
"It was a big game for both sides so we're very happy to have got the win."
The visitors had the first chance of the match when Noel Hunt headed wide from six-yards in the fifth minute when he should have at least tested the home side's goalkeeper Neil Alexander.
Two minutes later, though, Rangers had the early goal they were looking for to settle their nerves.
Thomson's free-kick from the left found Novo at the back post and the Spaniard headed beyond United's Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska for his 15th goal of the season.
The Rangers fans hailed the goalscorer - who had converted the crucial spot-kick which took the Ibrox side to UEFA Cup Final.
And in the 18th minute Novo heightened his popularity further with a stunning left-foot shot from the corner of the 18-yard box which flew over Zaluska into the opposite top corner of the net.
United could have had a penalty in the 54th minute, when Rangers defender David Weir appeared to foul Hunt in the 18-yard box, but referee Mike McCurry waved away their claims to the disgust of Levein.
Rangers defender Christian Dailly was denied by the woodwork when his shot in the 65th minute beat Alexander but rebounded back off the post.
United looked to have pulled one back in the 71st minute when Danny Swanson's shot from 25-yards deflected off Weir, wrong-footing his goalkeeper, and found the back of the net.
Inexplicably, however, referee McCurry ruled the goal out for offside.
In the 76th minute the visitors did pull one back when De Vries directed a header into the corner of the net from 12-yards.
But Rangers completed the victory in injury time when Barry Ferguson squared for substitute Darcheville who confidently sent a first-time shot into the corner of the net.
Dundee United manager Levein was furious at the referee's performance after the match.
He said: "The only positives we can take from that game is Mike McCurry will not referee another one of our games this season. We played well, had a lot of possession and made more chances than I can remember making at Ibrox for a long time.
"It was a big game for us but that doesn't matter. The main thing was Rangers needed to win so we had no chance and the referee got all of the big decisions wrong."