THE Light Blues did not pass their biggest test of the season with flying colours as the Tangerines emerged victorious.

But Gers striker Nicky Clark reckons they are on the right course after Ally McCoist's men came up agonisingly short against Dundee United on Saturday.

After weeks of below-par performances, Rangers finally upped their game to a more acceptable level in their William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final but it was not enough as United ran out 3-1 winners at Ibrox.

Just days after crashing to an embarrassing defeat to Raith Rovers in the Ramsdens Cup final, missed chances and defensive lapses again cost the SPFL League One champions dear as Stevie Smith's first-half free-kick proved in vain.

Rangers will not face a side of United's quality in their Championship title challenge next season but Clark is confident the signs are more encouraging as the Light Blues set their sights on Scotland's top flight once again.

He said: "Yeah, I think we should take some encouragement from that performance. We played really well and we created a few good chances in the first half and maybe on another day we would have taken them and gone on to win.

"I thought we did really well and all the boys performed out there. On another day we might have won and I don't think there would have been too many arguments had we done that.

"We can take that into next season. It will be a good standard next year and after today we know we are capable of raising our game and playing against the top teams."

The scoreline may have suggested a comfortable afternoon for United as they booked their place in the final but it could have been a far different story had Rangers not shot themselves in the foot once again.

McCoist's side recovered from glaring misses by Dean Shiels and Jon Daly, and defensive calamities that saw Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven score, to give themselves a fighting chance in the closing stages.

But their hopes were extinguished when Nadir Ciftci capitalised on a Steve Simonsen howler as the Gers geared up for one final push.

"Yes, he [Simonsen] is a wee bit upset, but so are we all," Clark said. "You can't blame Steve. It happens.

"Everyone makes mistakes but when you are a goalkeeper you get punished more for it. Yes, he's upset, but I'm sure he will be fine.

"It maybe just kind of killed the game off. You can't put the blame on anybody.

"It was a team effort and everybody did well and a couple of daft things cost us the game, but on another day we could have won it."

The day may have ended in another defeat for Rangers but there was a far different reaction from the Light Blue support compared to the previous weekend, when they were booed off the pitch.

A packed Ibrox roared them on against Jackie McNamara's side on Saturday and Clark was disappointed Rangers could not give the fans the ultimate payback and reward them for their efforts on the terraces.

"The fans were incredible and there was an unbelievable atmosphere," he said.

"It was the first time I've played in anything like that. The fans were great with us all and the atmosphere was amazing.

"We performed really, really well and on another day we could have won. We would have liked to have got to the final, but it wasn't to be."