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 captain scored with one sensational free-kick for his 17th goal of the season and then swung in another for Connor Goldson’s winner at Tannadice.
That was the 13th goal the right-back has set up this season as Rangers stayed on course to break Celtic’s nine-season stranglehold on the Premiership title. Steven Gerrard’s team overcame this latest test of character to stay 13 points clear of their bitter rivals, who have two games in hand.
Liam Smith equalised for the hosts but Rangers again found a way to come through as they maintained a firm grip on the title race. Alfredo Morelos escaped punishment for what appeared to be an elbow on United defender Mark Connolly, but Gerrard leapt to the forward’s defence after the game.
“I didn’t see an elbow. If you look at him again, there’s no elbow there. The referee saw it and dealt with it,” Gerrard said. “It was a foul and a yellow card and it’s been dealt with. But if you look at it again, you’ll say it wasn’t an elbow.”
The Rangers manager also played down his team’s status as title favourites. “We are in December,” Gerrard said. “I’ve said it many times, it’s about taking each challenge as it comes and this was a real tricky one today. We’ve handled everything that’s been thrown at us today so really proud of the performance.”
Gerrard also praised the contribution of Tavernier, including his superb opening goal. “The free-kick, it doesn’t matter who you are or who you are playing for, that is a world-class moment to execute it in that style. It was a superb bit of magic.”
Tavernier was one of six key players recalled by Gerrard after giving them the night off against Lech Poznan on Thursday, and he stepped up with a moment of brilliance in the 26th minute. Connolly’s trip on Kemar Roofe was 30 yards out from goal but the Rangers captain whipped 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. Borna Barisic had eyes only on Marc McNulty as Robson’s cross came in and totally missed Smith sneaking in behind him to fire the ball in off the far post. Gers were ahead again a minute before the break as Tavernier’s free kick found Goldson, who peeled towards the front post to head home.
Celtic at least ensured they lost no more ground at the top with a welcome 2-0 home win over Kilmarnock, with Mohamed Elyounoussi and Shane Duffy on target at Celtic Park.
Neil Lennon’s side began the game in third place behind Hibernian, and could not make the breakthrough in a goalless first half. Killie keeper Danny Rogers tipped Christopher Jullien’s header over the bar early on, while Celtic saw penalty claims waved away after Rogers collided with Greg Taylor.
The hosts increased the tempo after the break, and Elyounoussi gave Celtic the lead after 57 minutes. The Southampton loanee cut in from the right and fired a low shot that took a deflection to beat Rogers.
The final touch may have come off Duffy, and the centre-back sealed victory in the 70th minute, heading home from a David Turnbull corner. That secured Celtic’s first back-to-back wins since a run of eight successive victories ended in early October.
Lennon will now turn his attention to the delayed 2020 Scottish Cup final against Hearts at Hampden Park next Sunday, where the Hoops have a chance to clinch an unprecedented “quadruple-treble” of domestic trophies.