Kris Jack at Fir Park
Motherwell’s hopes of finishing in second place in the SPL took a further blow, as a late, late Lee McCulloch goal saw Rangers steal a 2-1 win, in a game that the Steelmen did not deserve to lose.
An early goal from Henrik Ojamaa was cancelled out almost as quickly by a swerving Steven Whittaker strike, and it looked like those goals would see the match out as a tie.
However, despite playing some neat football, and being on the right end of some refereeing decisions, ‘Well fell to a late lapse in concentration, extending their run of games without beating Rangers to 37.
Keith Lasley returned to the starting eleven at the expense of Stuart Carswell after suspension, while Ross Perry and Kyle Bartley were the only two additions to Ally McCoist’s line up after last week’s Old Firm win.
The home side got off to the ideal start, in their quest to rewrite history.
Five minutes had gone when Chris Humphrey played a one-two on the right hand side and took advantage of a slip from Lee Wallace to get to the by-line. As Allan McGregor looked to close him down, he dinked the ball in to the path of the onrushing Henrik Ojamaa who slid the ball in to the empty net.
Rangers were taken aback by the goal but were not to be deterred in looking for a quick response. A foul on Steven Davis allowed Sone Aluko to whip a ball in to the box, but Steven Whittaker’s header dropped just wide from the delivery.
However, Whittaker wasn’t to let that miss phase him though as he scored a glorious equaliser moments later. A vital but inaccurate clearance from Lasley on his own by-line fell to Sasa Papac who teed up Whittaker with a square ball. The Scotland full-back unleashed a vicious swerving effort in to the bottom corner leaving Darren Randolph rooted to the spot.
It was a goal of high quality but Estonian Ojamaa’s header drifted wide of Allan McGregor’s post after a decent Humphrey cross. The Scotland goalkeeper then made the first of three excellent saves, when Ojamaa played Nicky Law in on goal. The former Rotherham midfielder bore down on McGregor only to see his effort stopped by the feet of the man between the sticks.
Buoyed by creating the opening goal, Jamaican Humphrey was keen to make a further impact, first sending in a cross that was just too long for Ojamaa, before cutting in from the right and flashing a left foot effort just wide of the post.
Play was roaring from end to end with both teams slugging it out. Rangers should have had the opportunity to go in front from the penalty spot when Sone Aluko was brought down inside the box by Darren Randolph. It looked, and even sounded, like a penalty but referee Iain Brines opted to caution the Nigerian and award Motherwell a goal-kick.
The teams went in level at the half way point, with Motherwell perhaps the better of the two sides but riding their luck a little with the penalty call.
Rangers were first to threaten in the second half, when Steve Jennings fouled Aluko midway in his own half. Davis’ free kick evaded all in blue and hit Higdon’s shins before Randolph cleaned up the danger.
Motherwell got themselves together and a great interchange between Law and Ojamaa allowed Keith Lasley to have a dig from 20 yards but his effort was well tipped over by the gloves of McGregor.
Law then saw a shot drift just wide when the ball broke to him at the edge of the box, after a melee in which it looked like Higdon had been bundled over on the penalty spot, just before the hour.
McCoist made his first change of the game, bringing Lafferty on for Papac to try and carve out the next goal, but it was a great cross from Edu, which set up Steven Davis, unmarked in the box. The Ulsterman’s first time volley was spectacular in technique but lacking in execution as he sliced his effort in to the side net.
Steven Hammell was alert to thwart Lafferty on the by-line after the striker had freed himself from Law’s attentions at the corner flag as Rangers looked to be going for the win. Moments later, an Aluko turn and had a shot from 18 yards was blocked by both Clancy and Hutchinson, resulting in a goalmouth stramash but Motherwell survived when Randolph mopped up a Lafferty dinked ball.
With seven minutes left, McGregor completed a hat trick of point winning saves when he somehow palmed away a half volley from the penalty spot by Higdon. Despite that save, the belief was still there that Motherwell could be the ones to go on and snatch a late winner.
McGregor’s counterpart Randolph was then forced into his first real save of the game, when Lafferty had a snap shot from the corner of the box, but the big Irish goalie made the routine stop. His next save was every bit as good as McGregor’s efforts as a whipped ball was glanced goalward by Lafferty again, only to be kept out by the stopper’s stunning reactions.
However, he was helpless seconds later as Lee McCulloch helped himself to an 88th minute winner.
The throw in conceded by the clearance from the earlier save took an awkward bounce over the head of Clancy, who looked to be nudged off balance by Aluko. That allowed the former Motherwell and Wigan man to steal in and poke home the winner from four yards out.
Motherwell’s luck had run out in the cruellest way possible, as the Rangers fans celebrated behind the goal and Hammell and Clancy protested to Mr Brines about the Aluko push. However, the goal stood and deflated the hopes of all in Claret and Amber inside Fir Park.
It was a harsh end to an entertaining game for the Motherwell fans having seen their side play arguably the best they have against Rangers in the last few years only for the hard work to be undone by the late concession. ‘Well now sit 6 points adrift of second place and McCall’s men will look to bounce back next week against Hibernian at Easter Road in the final game before the SPL split.
[tab:As it happened]
Alastair Reilly at Fir Park
92mins: Full time Motherwell 1-2 Rangers.
90mins: 4th official indicates 2 minutes added on.
88mins: GOAL 1-2. Lee McCulloch nips in at the front post to poke past Randolph.
85mins: Rangers Sub, Little on for Edu.
80mins: Fantastic save from McGregor from Higdon’s 10 yard volley.
79mins: Humphrey does well again up against Wallace, beating him to the line and driving into the area. His cut back is blocked this time.
74mins: Goian booked for dangerously leading with an arm to win a header.
72mins: Free-kick for Rangers in a dangerous position….. Davis fires over.
67mins: Steve Davis harmlessly drives a volley past the post after ‘Well got caught exposed.
62mins: Rangers Sub, Papac off for Lafferty.
52mins: So unlucky! Las with a 20 yard effort beaten away by McGregor.
45mins: And the Half time whistle goes. 1-1, which is a fair reflection of the first half.
39mins: Rangers having a spell on top. ‘Well resilient in their defending though.
27mins: Humphrey looks full of confidence and was unlucky when he cut inside on his left foot but dragged it just wide!
22mins: Great chance for ‘Well as Hammell and Ojamaa link up well down the left. The through ball found Law whose shot was saved well.
19mins: Corner for Motherwell, the ball dropped to Humphrey who volleyed it back into the mixer. Ojamaa’s stabbed effort trickles wide,
13mins: Clancy and Whittaker both booked after an altercation. Looked a fair booking.
9mins: 1-1 Whittaker equalises with a 25 yard left footed drive.
5mins: Outstanding pace from Humphrey as he powers past Wallace and squares the ball to Ojamaa who taps home.
1min: And Jenno and Las kick the game off. Come on!
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
A six-point gap is of no interest to me, to be honest. We have never talked about second.
“Our main aim at the beginning of the season was to be in the top six. At Christmas, we looked at getting into the top four to get European football.
“With the points we amassed, come February, we were looking at third and since February third has always been our aim.
“If we can maintain that level of performance today in the six games we’ve got left, I’m confident it will get us enough points to finish third.”
Rangers manager Ally McCoist:
“That was a big win for us because it takes us six clear of Motherwell.
“We’ve still got to play the teams in the top six so it’s never over but it certainly puts us in a better position than we were at 1200 today.”