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James Tavernier stars again as Premiership leaders Rangers beat Dundee United

Dundee United v Rangers – Scottish Premiership – Tannadice Park
(Image credit: Willie Vass)

James Tavernier again underlined his player-of-the-year credentials with another goal and an assist in Rangers’ 2-1 win over Dundee United.

The skipper scored with one sensational free-kick for his 17th goal of the season and then swung in another for Connor Goldson’s Tannadice winner.

That was the 13th goal the right-back has set up this term and it looks impossible to see how anyone will be able to wrestle the individual awards away from the Englishman come May.

And it is looking more and more like this will be Rangers’ year to break Celtic’s long stranglehold on the Premiership title after Steven Gerrard’s team overcame this latest examination of their character.

Liam Smith did briefly level for the hosts but the Light Blues again found a way to come through as they maintained a firm grip on the title race.

The only concern for Gerrard will be the form and behaviour of Alfredo Morelos, who missed a glorious chance to put Gers further ahead in the second half, having escaped serious punishment for a collision with United defender Mark Connolly.

Gerrard had only the day before talked up his side’s new-found discipline this term but this was a return to bad habits for the Colombian, who was lucky referee Steven McLean only flashed yellow.

The Ibrox boss brought back six of his key men – including Tavernier – after giving them the night off against Lech Poznan on Thursday night.

United boss Micky Mellon was back in the dugout after his period in quarantine and made just one change to the team which lost to Livingston, with Jamie Robson taking Dillon Powers’ slot as he started at left-back.

Last time the teams met back in September, Mellon tried to go toe-to-toe with the Light Blues and paid a heavy price as his Tangerines slumped 4-0 at Ibrox.

This time, the United boss had learned his lesson and took a more cautious approach.

Yet it was the hosts who threatened the opener first. Adrian Sporle’s corner was missed by Goldson while his defensive partner Leon Balogun had to throw himself in front of Connolly’s strike.

The rebound fell to Mark Reynolds but Steven Davis blocked on the line before Kemar Roofe finally cleared the danger.

Morelos was on the charge soon after as he drove forward from halfway before drilling just wide.

But the Colombian should have been marching towards the showers in the 12th minute after planting a forearm into Connolly’s face.

McLean can surely not have seen the full scope of the incident or else he would have deemed it worthy of more than the yellow he produced.

There was another close escape for the visitors when Allan McGregor and Balogun collided as they raced to get to Ian Harkes’ long ball before Marc McNulty.

With the pair sprawling and the goal lying empty, however, Smith could only shoot wide from distance.

Gers were beginning to look light on ideas – but then up stepped their captain with another moment of brilliance in the 26th minute.

Connolly’s trip on Roofe was 30 yards out from goal but Tavernier found the whip to arc the free-kick over the wall and past Benjamin Siegrist for a sensational opener.

United responded with a well-worked goal of their own seven minutes later as Mellon’s team became the first Scottish side since Motherwell back in September to net against Gerrard’s team.

Harkes sent the ball out wide for Robson. Barisic had eyes only on McNulty as the cross came in and totally missed Smith sneaking in behind him to fire the ball in off the far post.

Ryan Kent had an unsuccessful penalty appeal as he went down at Robson’s feet before sending in two dangerous crosses which Tavernier and Morelos failed to convert.

But Gers were ahead a minute before the break as Tavernier again produced a big moment. Brought down by Sporle, it was the skipper’s set-piece which found Goldson as the defender peeled towards the front post to flick home with his head.

Another speculative Morelos shot skipped wide while Goldson blazed a loose ball over from six yards as Rangers dominated the opening stages of the second period.

Morelos has not scored a league goal for almost three months and let another big chance to break his drought slip by as the ball got stuck under his feet when Roofe’s chip found him in the box, with Siegrist racing from his line to smother.

Another swing at fresh air proved to be his last involvement as Cedric Itten was introduced by Gerrard. The big Swiss hitman almost made an immediate impact as he went past the keeper before teeing up Scott Arfield but Connolly prevented the third with his goal-line clearance.