Dundee United inflicted Rangers’ first defeat in 41 Scottish Premiership matches with a ferocious performance at a pulsating Tannadice.
Jamie Robson’s goal just after the hour was enough to earn Thomas Courts his first league win as United manager and condemn Steven Gerrard’s side to a first league reverse since losing to Hamilton Academical in March 2020.
United had to defend obdurately – and at times desperately – in the latter stages, but saw out Courts’ fifth victory in six competitive games.
Rangers, meanwhile, go into Tuesday’s Champions League qualifier with Malmo at Ibrox having failed to score for only the second time in 40 games.
Steven Gerrard’s side – with Alfredo Morelos back in their XI – struggled to carve out clear chances as they go into a European game in which they must score, having lost 2-1 in Sweden last week.
James Tavernier tested United goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist after Morelos passed up two first-half openings.
Courts had started with four League Cup triumphs, before his team fell to a meek 2-0 defeat by Aberdeen last weekend, and they responded to that setback with a hustle and bustle start.
The hosts – roared on by more than 5000 fans – put together some excellent approach play together without really testing McLaughlin, who was preferred to Allan McGregor in goal for the second league game running.
Lawrence Shankland’s absence in the home attack was put down to a hip injury, following interest in the striker from Beerschot, and the lack of a focal point was one of few frustrations for United in the first half.
Morelos, making his first appearance this term, swept a shot wide from a Joe Aribo cut-back then headed past from Ryan Kent’s cross.
Charlie Mulgrew’s header tested McLaughlin as half-time neared and the defender was booked for a cynical tug on Morelos’ jersey. Tavernier fired the resulting free-kick over.
The visitors improved after the break, winning a series of corners that led to Tavernier’s 25-yard strike, which Siegrist palmed clear.
But just as Rangers looked to be gaining a foothold, Logan Chalmers’ replacement Sporle drove forward and Robson got the break of the ball off Steven Davis’ tackle to nudge the ball beyond McLaughlin.
It could be one of the left-back’s final acts as a United player amid reported interest from Lincoln City and Sunderland.
Steven Gerrard sent on Cedric Itten then Jermain Defoe in search of parity but accuracy and composure eluded Rangers in the closing stages.
Man of the match – Jamie Robson
What did we learn?
Courts found himself up against a Rangers team not at the races and got his tactics spot on as he sought to unnerve Gerrard’s men. The only criticism of their performance can be that they did not create more openings.
The United manager also hinted that deals to sign forwards Marc McNulty and Ilmari Niskanen were close, which would bolster his slim attacking options.
Rangers, meanwhile, looked trapped in second gear in the first half and shell-shocked after going behind.
Having lost two sloppy goals to Malmo in midweek, it was a similar story at Tannadice and they never looked likely to get level. Improvement is needed if they are to overturn their deficit against the Swedes.
What did they say?
Dundee United head coach Thomas Courts: “It was a monumental performance, a colossal result. This is a really important three points for us. It gives us a little bit of a breakthrough.
“Jamie Robson was absolutely everywhere and to see him pop up in that moment and have the composure to slot away, was very fitting.”
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told Sky Sports: “Over the course of the 90 minutes, I’m not sure we deserved to lose the game but you always put yourself in that position if you don’t go and score goals.
“What we created today, it wasn’t enough. We’ve got no time to feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got a massive game in three days’ time.”
Rangers play the return leg of their Champions League third qualifying round match against Malmo at Ibrox on Tuesday (20:00).
Dundee United are next in action away to Ayr United in next Saturday’s League Cup tie (15:00), with Rangers hosting Dunfermline in that competition the night before (19:30).
- 4MulgrewBooked at 41mins
- 18ButcherBooked at 24mins
- 66FuchsBooked at 90mins
- 11ChalmersSubstituted forSpörleat 50′minutes
- 8PawlettBooked at 66minsSubstituted forWatsonat 80′minutes
- 6GoldsonBooked at 38mins
- 4LundstramSubstituted forWrightat 69′minutes
- 20MorelosSubstituted forDefoeat 82′minutes
- 14KentSubstituted forIttenat 79′minutes
- Don Robertson
Match ends, Dundee United 1, Rangers 0.
Second Half ends, Dundee United 1, Rangers 0.
Jeando Fuchs (Dundee United) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Joe Aribo (Rangers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jeando Fuchs (Dundee United).
Foul by Filip Helander (Rangers).
Nicky Clark (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Joe Aribo (Rangers) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Glen Kamara.
Attempt missed. James Tavernier (Rangers) right footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Borna Barisic with a cross.
Foul by Jermain Defoe (Rangers).
Charlie Mulgrew (Dundee United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Rangers. Jermain Defoe replaces Alfredo Morelos.
Attempt missed. Cedric Itten (Rangers) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by James Tavernier with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Rangers. Conceded by Jamie Robson.
Substitution, Dundee United. Darren Watson replaces Peter Pawlett because of an injury.
Substitution, Rangers. Cedric Itten replaces Ryan Kent.
Connor Goldson (Rangers) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Adrián Spörle (Dundee United).
Attempt missed. Connor Goldson (Rangers) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by James Tavernier with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Rangers. Conceded by Charlie Mulgrew.