John Fleck's first ever goal for Rangers and a late Kyle Lafferty strike secured a 2-0 win over Dundee United at Ibrox to cut the gap at the top of the Scottish Premier League to one point. With Celtic not playing Inverness Caledonian Thistle until Sunday, the Ibrox side took the chance to put pressure on their Old Firm rivals at the top of the league by taking all three points.
It was 17-year-old Fleck, nephew of former Rangers and Norwich player John Fleck, that won and converted a penalty with just over ten minutes remaining to light up what was otherwise a dull affair. Substitute Lafferty then scored the easiest of chances in injury time to double the Ibrox side's lead.
Rangers manager Walter Smith said his side found it difficult to break United down and praised Fleck's debut goal. "I am happy with the three points. United always give you a difficult game and we were a little bit off the pace and struggled. John has taken penalties throughout his youth career and fair play to him for having the confidence to take it."
Dundee United manager Craig Levein said fatigue could have been a factor, after their gruelling league cup semi-final against Celtic went to penalties on Wednesday night.
"The penalty was the biggest factor. Before that, I don't think our keeper made a save," Levein said. "I am frustrated that we lost the game to a late penalty in a game we were more than in."
In the opening stages, Rangers had United on the back foot, but the Ibrox side could not create any chances. It was United who had the first opportunity to take the lead in the ninth minute when David Robertson raced into the box to stab a long throw-in from the right towards goal, but Allan McGregor got down well to save it.
United had the first chance of the second-half when Warren Feeney's cross from the right was missed by David Weir and the sliding Francisco Sandaza was inches away from connecting with it. It took until the 65th minute for Rangers to have any sort of meaningful effort. Madjid Bougherra went on a run down the right and found Kris Boyd with a cutback, but his midair downward volley was saved by Lukasz Zaluska.
A minute later Fleck tried his luck from the edge of the box, but his curling effort went wide of the post. Lafferty, on for Boyd, thought he had opened the scoring in the 75th minute when he slipped Steven Davis's chipped pass under Zaluska, but it was ruled offside. And it was Fleck, in only his third start, who gave Rangers the lead in the 77th minute. The 17-year-old went on a darting run down the left-wing before being hauled down in the box by Mihael Kovacevic. Fleck picked himself up and calmly placed his spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner of the net, sending Zaluska the wrong way, for his first senior goal.
Deep into injury time Zaluska rushed out of his box to tackle Barry Ferguson and the ball broke to Lafferty who stroked the ball into an empty net.
In other action, both teams got a point in the first ever match at the new St. Mirren Park. Kilmarnock took the lead through a first-half goal from debut boy Kevin Kyle, but substitute Dennis Wyness got a late equaliser for St. Mirren in a 1-1 draw.
Derek Riordan and David Clarkson scored as Hibernian and Motherwell drew 1-1. A Simon Mensing double earned Hamilton Academical a 2-0 win over Heart of Midlothian to end a run of 19 consecutive defeats in matches against the Edinburgh side. A Michael Higdon goal was enough to seal a 1-0 win for Falkirk over Aberdeen.