Despite a terrific performance both tactically and in terms of commitment, Motherwell failed to take a point from an absorbing encounter at Ibrox.
Devante Cole’s 20th minute strike was just reward for Motherwell’s positive start and first half display. Jermaine Defoe grabbed the equaliser just prior to the half-time whistle, but that failed to deter the Steelmen, who were eventually beaten by Filip Helander’s headed winner 11 minutes from time.
Much to their credit the Fir Park men failed to fold and ended the game pressing the home side for a deserved equaliser and a well earned point.
Looking to reclaim third spot in the league Stephen Robinson made four changes from the side which lost to Aberdeen.
Bevis Mugabi made his first start, and with Jake Carroll back from injury he formed a back five. Liam Donnelly, returning from suspension, was anchored in front of the back line providing ‘Well with a strong defensive unit to blunt a free scoring Rangers’ attack.
However, at the other end of the park, and for the first time, the ‘Well boss opted to pair Christopher Long and Devante Cole in attack, in the hope of giving the home defence some problems of their own.
As it tuned out the first couple of goal threats came from the visitors. With three minutes on the clock Long released Liam Grimshaw down the right flank and when his low cross was partially cleared the ball found Long but his curled effort flew over the crossbar.
Two minutes later the former Blackpool striker was a couple of strides away from reaching Liam Polworth’s decisive through ball as Alan McGregor raced from his line to smother the threat.
The home side had a couple of long range efforts off target as the ‘Well defence stood tall against a series of crosses.
However, with 20 minutes played and just when the Ibrox fans thought their side was getting into its stride, the Fir Park men stunned them with the opening goal.
Allan Campbell, who showed great tenacity at the edge of his own box to win a free kick, then popped up at the other end where his snap shot was blocked. With his back to goal Cole collected the loose ball tuned and from 15 yards drilled a low shot past the diving McGregor to give the Steelmen a lead to protect.
Not surprisingly Rangers came surging forward in pursuit of a quick equaliser and within a couple of minutes there were two strong appeals for a penalty as they claimed the ball clattered off Peter Hartley’s and then Grimshaw’s arms. Mugabi, looking big and solid between Hartley and Declan Gallagher bravely charged down Greg Stewart’s powerful drive as the intensity around the visitor’s penalty area increased.
Rangers were finally awarded a spot kick after 37 minutes. Heading for the byline, James Tavernier hit the ground as he nipped past Polworth much to the ‘Well man’s indignation. Despite the Fir Park players pleas to referee Andrew Dallas, the decision stood – only for Tavernier to smack the spot kick off the foot of the post.
Three minutes from the break Steven Gerrard made an early change bringing on the highly rated Ryan Kent. And in injury time Rangers grabbed the equaliser, as ‘Well players again protested.
As Donnelly claimed a foul, Jermaine Defoe headed towards the visitor’s box where he set up Scott Arfield. From 20 yards the Canadian’s thumping drive was beaten out by Mark Gillespie but only as far as Defoe, who from an angle, slammed the ball under the ‘keeper to make it all level at the interval.
Ten minutes into the second half and with Rangers furiously pressing to take the lead, ‘Well made their first substitution Richard Tait replacing Carroll at left back.
Campbell, thriving on the midfield action, shrugged off a couple of challenges but after a smart exchange with Cole he just failed to play the on loan Wigan striker in behind the home defence.
Despite Rangers’ possession around the box, Gillespie was well protected until 62 minutes when he threw himself low to his left to push Tavernier’s angled shot beyond his post. A minute later Donnelly’s trip on Defoe 20 yards from goal presented Tavernier with another set piece but the full back fired the free kick over Gillespie’s bar.
As the Ibrox side became increasingly frustrated as they failed to break through the organised and hard working ‘Well defence, the Steelmen had a great chance to score on the counter-attack.
Campbell again did the spade work releasing Cole who carried the ball towards the Rangers’ box before playing in Long. Although the angle was tight he failed to test McGregor firing his shot into the side netting.
With 20 minutes remaining and the frustrations extending to the home stands, Gerrard sent on top goal scorer Alfredo Morelos. ‘Well then made a positive change when Jermaine Hylton took over from the tiring Long.
Morelos’ only chance came when he latched on to a though ball but closely marshalled by Hartley the Columbian’s touch was gathered by Gillespie.
Rangers finally grabbed the eventual winner after 79 minutes. Helander threw himself in front of Mugabi to nod Tavernier’s corner beyond the diving Gillespie and inside the ‘keeper’s right had post.
Sherwin Seedorf immediately replaced Mugabi as Motherwell pressed Rangers for the closing stages in search of an equaliser.
With five minutes additional time indicated it was the Rangers’ fans who were disgruntled and screaming for the final whistle as the home side hung on to their slender lead.
‘Well now look to the visit of Kilmarnock on Wednesday to overtake the Ayrshire side and move back into third place.