Motherwell produced arguably their best performance under Ian Baraclough when it mattered most – the 2015 Premiership play-off final.
Goals from Lee Erwin, Stephen McManus and Lionel Ainsworth were enough to take a two goal advantage back to Fir Park for the second leg and secured the Steelmen’s first win at Ibrox since 1997.
When Lionel Ainsworth made it 3-0 at the start of the second half it sent the small band of ‘Well fans into ecstasy and only a late goal from Darren McGregor dampened their spirits and raised Rangers’ hopes that they could stage a dramatic recovery in the second leg and relegate ‘Well.
The Steelmen support won’t need any reminding of what happened in the return leg, but ahead of Saturday’s Scottish Cup clash at Ibrox, what better time to look back on one of the club’s most important victories in recent seasons?
Ian Baraclough deployed Lionel Ainsworth and Marvin Johnson in wide positions to check the overlapping runs of Rangers’ full backs but also use their pace and hopefully catch the Ibrox side on the break. And with Scott McDonald dropping back to join Keith Lasley and Stephen Pearson in the middle of the park ‘Well’s intentions to stifle ‘Gers early in the game were clear.
The 950 ‘Well fans in the far corner were relieved to see Kenny Miller break away from Lasley only to curl his shot beyond George Long’s post.
In the 23rd minute Long produced the first save of the game getting down well to block Nicky Law’s drilled shot from 10 yards.
Motherwell’s reply was a cross from his brother Josh which found Lee Erwin but his tame header was comfortably held by Cammy Bell.
The next effort on goal though, caused Bell a bit more concern as ‘Well took the lead.
Josh Law was again the provider finding Erwin wide on the right and after dragging the ball into the box the striker tried his luck with an angled left foot shot with Darren McGregor’s outstreched leg sending the ball past his ‘keeper and gave Well the upper hand.
It could have been 2-0 minutes later when a Louis Laing header from Ainsworth’s corner seemed netbound until it was deflected past the post
However, it took another great save from Long to block Nicky Clark’s snapshot and deny Ranger’s an equaliser.
That would have brought the Ibrox side right back into the game. Instead a stunning second goal five minutes from half time set ‘Well on their road to an historic victory.
Five minutes from the break Wallace pulled back McDonald to concede a free kick on the right touch line. Johnston curled the ball into a packed box where McManus rose unchallenged to power a header past Bell and silence the 42,000 Rangers’ fans.
Having left the field to a barrage of boos, the Ibrox crowd loudly welcomed their side back onto the pitch in anticipation of a second half fightback.
However, any hopes of a ‘Gers recovery were killed within 90 seconds when’Well added a terrific third goal. Pearson nicked the ball in the centre circle before racing upfield. He fed the ball to Erwin who played in Ainsworth who rounded off the move in style smashing the ball past the helpless Bell.
Rangers’ reply was a thumping drive from Haris Vuckic which was turned round the post by Long with another impressive save.
In a final attempt to grab a goal and life-line, Stuart McCall then sent on Kris Boyd to partner Miller up front.
Motherwell, though, were confident and calm in possession and looked the Premier side. As Rangers chased the game ‘Well carved through the home defence a had a few more chances which should have produced another goal. McDonald and Johnston curled efforts over the bar before Johnston’s run and cut back set up Ainsworth but from 10 yards only he hammered his shot over the bar when he should have really made it 4-0.
That miss almost proved costly when at the other end Long had to produce a wonderful reflex save to prevent Boyd snatching a goal with a trademark back post header.
With eight minutes remaining, Simon Ramsden replaced the limping Pearson and just before Rangers pulled back a goal that gave them some hope. A floated corner into the six yard area was met by McGregor who headed the ball past Long to raise the decibel levels from the Ibrox stands and set up a furious finish.
But as Rangers continued to hoist the ball into the penalty box Laing and McManus in particular stood tall and strong to preserve Motherwell’s two goal lead and hoist them halfway to Premiership safety, before securing that future with an emphatic 3-0 home win in the second leg.