A first-half strike from Joe Aribo secured three points for Rangers and a first win at Dens Park for Steven Gerrard on Saturday, but it was yet another performance which provided strong evidence that Rangers are some way off their invincible form of last season.
Rangers arrived on Tayside on the back of a disappointing home draw in the league against Motherwell last Sunday, and looking to secure three points to maintain their place at the top of the pile.
Gerrard reintroduced Ianis Hagi and James Tavernier to his starting eleven. He also opted with Jon McLaughlin in goal again, and the former Sunderland man having to be lively to deal with a close-range header from Jordan McGhee in the early stages.
The match saw Leigh Griffiths play against Rangers for the first time since his loan move from Celtic to Dundee. Griffiths has been targeted by away supporters since he was investigated by Police Scotland for allegedly messaging an underage girl on social media. Police found no evidence of criminality, but Griffiths has faced a stream of abuse from opposing supporters since, culminating in him reacting mid-week to barracking from St Johnstone supporters by kicking a flare into the away support. He has since been charged by Police Scotland for culpable and reckless behaviour, and his fortunes didn’t improve any here. Firstly he missed a great chance he should have scored, hitting the ball weakly at the Rangers goal, then he was substituted on the 39th minute – much to the joy of the travelling support.
The goal was a one a few bright moments from Rangers. James Tavernier played a nice ball into Alfredo Morelos, who dinked a lovely reverse pass into the path of Joe Aribo who took a touch to set himself before placing it past Adam Legzdins in the Dundee goal.
Kemar Roofe then came close with a shot at goal after some nice work had taken him past Liam Fontaine, but overall Rangers lacked any real attacking threat despite enjoying the majority of possession.
John Lundstram has enjoyed an indifferent start to his career at Rangers, but this was yet another improved performance by the former Sheffield United man. He came close to doubling Rangers lead early in the second-half, with a curling effort from the corner of the box forcing Legzdins into a fine save, but more importantly the under-fire midfielder drew much praise from his manager.
“He was the best player on the pitch by a mile,” said Gerrard After the game. “I’ve been almost smiling in disbelief, really, at some of the reaction on the outside.”
‘John’s a fantastic player. He’s showed his quality in the last three games. Ok, he’s been finding his feet and it does take time to get up to speed and work out how people play, but he was an absolute powerhouse today.
“He was Man of the Match and the best player on the pitch by a mile.”
Dundee were handed a lifeline back into the game when they were awarded a penalty on the 59th minute. The foul came from a long ball played by Max Anderson which Connor Goldson misjudged, allowing Paul McMullan to run in on goal to be fouled by Jon McLaughlin. Bobby Madden was left with no option but to award the spot kick, McMullan and the home support also appealed loudly for McLaughlin to see red - the double-jeopardy rule, however, meant only a yellow was forthcoming.
The defending from Goldson was yet another example of some within the Rangers squad struggling to reach the heights of last season, with him and James Tavernier in particularly having an uncomfortable afternoon defensively.
Former Rangers striker Jason Cummings, who had replaced Griffiths in the first-half, stepped up to take the spot kick, but hit his shot at the legs of McLaughlin – allowing the the Rangers keeper to gather the ball safely after an initial failed attempted to punch the ball clear.
The incident enraged Dundee manager James McPake, who was red carded at full time for protesting over-zealously. When asked if he felt McLaughlin should have been on the pitch to face the penalty, he was blunt in his response.
"In my opinion, no. I know the rule is if you make a genuine attempt, and people will disagree and say it's a genuine attempt.
"But Paul McMullan is clearly by him and the leg comes out. If it's Adam Legzdins would my answer be different? Probably not.”
For Rangers and Steven Gerrard focus now switches to the trip to Prague on Thursday night in Europa League.
"We came here for three points. No-one will remember how we got them, and I've also managed to keep people fresh for Thursday, so a lot of positives to take away."
Three points was indeed the objective for Rangers here, but improved performances are required if they want to secure a second successive title.
DUNDEE: Legzdins; Ashcroft, Fontaine, Sweeney; Kerr, Anderson, Byrne, McGhee, Marshall; McMullan, Griffiths.
SUBS: Jakubiak, McGowan, McCowan, Panter, Lawlor, Sheridan, Cummings.
RANGERS: McLaughlin; Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Bassey; Lundstram, Kamara, Aribo; Roofe, Hagi, Morelos.
SUBS: McGregor, Davis, Patterson, Wright, Bacuna, Fashion Jr, Barisic.
REF: Bobby Madden
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