ANTONIO Colak returned to the Rangers side in the cinch Premiership game against Dundee United at Ibrox today - and celebrated his 29th birthday with a double that ended his side’s disappointing three match losing run.

Colak, who was replaced with Alfredo Morelos in the Champions League match against Napoli in Govan on Wednesday night, opened the scoring in the eighth minute after being supplied by James Tavernier.

It was the first goal that Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side, who have conceded 11 times in consecutive defeats to Celtic, Ajax and Napoli in the past fortnight, had registered in over 270 minutes of football.

The Croatian internationalist added a second four minutes into the second-half when he got on the end of a cross from his countryman Borna Basrisic and volleyed beyond Carljohan Eriksson from a tight angle.

The three-times capped striker, a £1.8m signing from PAOK in Greece back in July, has now been on target nine times in the 13 appearances he has made in the 2022/23 campaign.

Rangers had to work to secure all three points against rivals who have not won in the top flight this season, are in bottom place in the table and are without a permanent manager.

Caretaker Liam Fox replaced Glenn Middleton with Sadat Ada at the start of the second-half and the substitute was involved in the build-up to the goal that right back Liam Smith scored in the 59th minute.

Rangers held on to move to within two points of leaders Celtic, who play St Mirren in Paisley tomorrow, and avoid suffering four straight defeats for the first time since 1985.

But there remains much work for Van Bronckhorst to do before the Scottish Cup winners travel to Edinburgh to take on third-placed Hearts at Tynecastle in two weeks.

The Dutchman - possibly with half an eye on the match against Liverpool at Anfield next month which James Sands, who was sent off against Napoli in midweek, is suspended for – named Leon King at centre half.

The teenager was joined in the starting line-up by his contemporary Charlie McCann; the youngster slotted into the midfield alongside Ryan Jack and John Lundstram.

It was good to see two of Scotland’s most promising players getting starts for the Europa League finalists. It is to be hoped they continue to feature at home and abroad in the months ahead.

But the absences of Glen Kamara and Rabbi Matondo from the Rangers match day squad raised eyebrows more than the duo’s inclusion.

Matondo, the young Welsh winger who joined from Schalke 04 in Germany in July, looked fantastic in pre-season. But his last league start came in the 2-2 draw with Hibernian at Easter Road a month ago. Online rumours that he had been disciplined and dropped were rebutted by his employers.

Van Bronckhorst stated yesterday that he had the same squad available to him as he had for the Napoli match. Kamara came on in the second-half of that outing. But no explanation was forthcoming about why the Finnish midfielder was missing.

Rangers started the game at a high tempo and applied sustained pressure to their opponents’ defence without seriously testing United keeper Carljohan Eriksson.

They broke the deadlock on the counter attack after Tavernier pinched the ball off Ian Harkes in his own half. The right back ran the length of the park before squaring to Colak. His team mate controlled the pass with his left foot before rifling a right foot shot into the bottom corner.

Some of the travelling supporters had booed and chanted during the minute’s silence that was held before kick-off to honour The Queen – which referee Kevin Clancy sensibly cut short – and the striker ran over to them with his finger to his lips as he celebrated.

It was the best possible start for a side struggling for form and confidence. They were unable, though, to build on their lead. A Scott Arfield attempt whistled just past the right post and Colak got a glancing header on target. But there was still a definite spark missing in their play.

Allan McGregor, who took over from the injured Jon McLaughlin against Napoli and saved two penalties, was far busier than his opposite number. He denied Aziz Behich after the left back had been teed up by Jamie McGrath, blocked a Glenn Middleton effort after the winger had got the better of King and held a Harkes header.

Whatever Van Bronckhorst said to his charges in the dressing room at half-time had the desired impact; they were much improved when play resumed and Colak found the net once again with a fine finish from a Barisic cross in the 49th minute.

But Rangers switched off and allowed Smith to give United a lifeline. Scott Wright took over from Arfield and Jack made way for Malik Tillman. Wright tested Eriksson with 15 minutes remaining and Tillman forced the keeper to palm his header over the crossbar with eight minutes to go.

The tension around the ground was palpable and tempers flared when King brought down McGrath as the midfielder burst upfield. Both sets of players squared up to each other and Clancy booked Barisic and Charlie Mulgrew. A single goal seperated them when the match official blew the final whistle.