Antonio Colak celebrated his 29th birthday with a double as Rangers ended a three-game losing streak with a stodgy 2-1 win over bottom side Dundee United at Ibrox.
The returning Croatia striker took only eight minutes to fire in the opener but the home fans were unimpressed by their side’s frustratingly pedestrian play for much of the rest of the game.
Colak doubled the Light Blues’ lead four minutes after the restart but still there was a lack of real urgency and United’s Liam Smith reduced the deficit in the 59th minute to ensure a nervy last half-hour.
Rangers manager, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, referred to the “big win” that moved them to within two points of in-form leaders Celtic, who travel to St Mirren on Sunday, but they will need to find much better form after the international break.
United, once again under the charge of caretaker manager Liam Fox, are still seeking a first league win of the season but will take encouragement from aspects of their play.
Before the game United fans disrupted the minute’s silence in memory of the Queen. Boos and chanting emanated from the corner of the stadium which housed several hundred Terrors supporters.
Rangers pounded the United defence from the kick-off and Ryan Kent and Scott Arfield missed chances before Colak struck.
Captain James Tavernier drove forward after robbing Ian Harkes and picked out the striker, who took a touch into the penalty area before driving low past United keeper Carljohan Eriksson for his eighth goal of the season.
The expected onslaught failed to materialise.
Back came United again, to the exasperation of the home fans, and Allan McGregor used his foot to stop Glenn Middleton’s drive.
There was a United penalty claim early in the second half when Tony Watt went down under pressure from Rangers left-back Borna Barisic but referee Kevin Clancy took no action.
Barisic was then involved in the second Rangers goal, his cross from the left knocked in by Colak.
Moments after Sadat Anaku replaced Middleton, the United substitute was involved in the build-up to their goal with Jamie McGrath playing in Smith, whose low drive came off McGregor and flew high into the net.
Anxiety gripped Ibrox and groans were audible. Van Bronckhorst took action and Arfield and Jack were replaced by Scott Wright and Malik Tillman in the 69th minute and, as the play stretched, Eriksson made saves from both newcomers but it was Rangers who were glad to hear the final whistle.
“You always fear the worst going 2-0 down at a place like this but the players stood up, showed character, and we pushed right to the end,” Fox said post-match.