The period when Rangers could prevent Celtic from reclaiming the Scottish Premier League title has been consigned to the dim and distant past. But here, Rangers were perfectly aware that they could have influence on where and when Celtic formally secure their flag.

Victory for Dundee United keeps the prospect of Celtic claiming the championship at Ibrox next Sunday alive. Given the steps routinely taken to avoid such scenarios coming to pass at Old Firm fixtures, that is not something that will draw positive sentiment either from Strathclyde police or Scotland's football authorities.

Rangers could legitimately claim they were worthy of a point. Still, from the moment United edged two goals ahead there never seemed a strong likelihood of Rangers ending a generally inauspicious run of results. Being blunt, they lack the talent to trigger such a turnaround against a decent side.

"I wasn't thinking about next weekend, I just don't like getting beat," said the Rangers manager, Ally McCoist. "I have never been scared of an Old Firm game in my life and I don't intend to start now. I still think we have players who can win the game.

"I can't feel anything other than we deserved to take something from this game. For 75 minutes of the game, if we were not the stronger team then we were heavily involved."

The Rangers team read like an instance of what might have been. And what might yet be. The club avoided mass redundancies from their playing staff after the squad agreed to wage cuts. For this fixture, it was a raft of injuries and suspensions that diminished McCoist's options; he could name only five substitutes due to a shortage of personnel.

That said, sympathy for McCoist must be offset by the fact he could still select a team littered with internationalists. United have no such luxury but represented ominous opponents for Rangers.

As seems to be their custom, United have reserved their best form for the latter part of the season. Last Sunday's Scottish Cup aberration against Celtic halted a run during which Peter Houston's team had claimed five wins and a draw from six outings.

Rangers had enjoyed marginally the better of a dismal first half. The visiting captain, Steven Davis, forced Dusan Pernis into a fine save before the goalkeeper had to be sharp off his line to beat Salim Kerkar to the ball.

By the interval, Kerkar had spurned another two chances and United had claimed the lead thanks to a goal hardly in keeping with anything that had gone before. Keith Watson was the unlikely supplier of that strike, lashed past Allan McGregor from the angle of the penalty area after Rangers had failed to clear successive crosses.

The second period at least produced more ingenuity than the first, a matter due in no small part to United loosening their earlier inhibitions. Excellent wing work by Gary Mackay-Steven triggered their second goal, with Jon Daly on hand to convert at close range.

It is to Rangers' credit that they opted not to fold at that point. The introduction of Sone Aluko from among McCoist's substitutes boosted the visitors' attacking intent.

Aluko's trickery deceived John Rankin to the extent that the United midfielder deflected a cross-cum-shot sufficiently for Pernis to be beaten. A superb block from Lee McCulloch then prevented Johnny Russell from restoring United's two-goal advantage.

The United defence desperately scrambled a Lee Wallace cross away and Andrew Little volleyed over as Rangers desperately chased salvation. The fact it was not forthcoming will only whet appetites in Glasgow's east end.