RANGERS were an efficient force, Dundee United were the potent one. That proved the main difference in a breathless semi-final that lived up to all its pre-match billing.
Ibrox was awash in tangerine celebrations as United booked their cup final date on May 17 and the Gers were left wondering what the outcome might have been had their own defensive incomptency not tripped them up.
United were far from their scintillating best and still had more than enough to prevail, encompassing the stark reality of the situation that Rangers were in.
The youthful Terrors may have had more than one eye on the tie in a lifeless showing against Celtic last weekend but they played the game and not the occasion, handling the circumstances with a professionalism that bodes well for their future development.
The third-tier side were reeling after the Ramsdens reverse to Raith and can be satisfied with the improvement after the cup final disappointment but their efforts fell short against the quality of a top-flight attack. They ultimately shot themselves in the foot.
Ally McCoist was an animated figure on the sidelines, which rubbed through on the players. But endeavour only counts for so much.
When assessing the story of the tie, it can be easy to focus on Rangers’ shortcomings but credit must be given where due to Dundee United.
The Tangerines demolished a rebuilt Rangers last February on a miserable afternoon for the Glasgow giants.
Although this third Scottish Cup meeting in as many years did not follow the same pattern, they were pro-active in their patient absorption of heavy Gers pressure in the opening exchanges.
The opener was a galling setback and a kick in the chops.
Their flourishing crop could not slice open the Gers rearguard too frequently but Premiership class eventually told. Criminal defending was the main contribution.
The frailties that have not been capitalised upon by League One part-timers this season became clear.
Jackie McNamara spoke of matching the intensity of Rangers and the opening exchanges provided enough evidence that United were to fulfil the manager’s plea.
The Gers had pride to restore and damage to repair. They could only achieve the former. It was United, the bookies’ overwhelming favourites, who delivered when it mattered.
If Aberdeen do the same on Sunday, a fierce North East battle in Glasgow’s East End should serve up a memorable end to the season. A repeat of the pulsating 1-1 draw between the sides at Pittodrie would suffice.
Despite an indifferent display, United deserved to reach the showpiece. 15 goals in four Scottish Cup ties demonstrates their free-flowing approach from back to front. The cut and thrust to play open and expansive football in the winner-takes-all scenarios.
The likes of 17-year-old John Souttar and 19-year-old Andy Robertson were guilty of being caught up in the Ibrox hotbed as nerves got the better of them at times.
But the plethora of embellishing youngsters have earned the right to grace the biggest stages with their talent. The Scottish Cup final is an historic occasion and United are there on merit.