A tired Motherwell toiled in a 5-1 home loss to Rangers on Sunday.
Rangers’ quickfire start settled the game by half-time. James Tavernier’s double from the penalty spot – and a third from Jordan Jones – gave the visitors control of the game.
A second half double from Cedric Itten made it a bit of stroll in the midday sun for the Ibrox men. An own goal from George Edmundson four minutes from time brought little celebration for the Steelmen.
Stephen Robinson made two changes from midweek. Bevis Mugabi returned to the centre of the back three, while Callum Lang replaced Christopher Long as the Fir Park attack had the envious task of overcoming the visitors’ mean defensive record.
On a superb pitch and day for football, all that was missing was the near-capacity crowd which usually accompanies this fixture.
Despite not having their massive support in the South Stand, Steven Gerrard’s men almost made the perfect start.
James Tavernier free kick in the first minute found the unmarked Alfredo Morelos and his glancing header was sneaking inside the post, until Trevor Carson leapt low to his right to push the ball behind.
The home box was peppered with several crosses before Calvin Bassey’s low ball bounced onto Mugabi’s hand allowing Bobby Madden to point to the penalty spot. It was harsh on the ‘Well centre back whose hand was by his side but under the new rules was correctly judged.
Tavernier showed little sympathy as he cracked his spot kick low and in off Carson’s right hand post to give the Ibrox men the upper hand with only 10 minutes on the clock.
The next penalty call came at the other end when Glen Kamara barged into the back of Allan Campbell. But as the ‘Well man tumbled to the ground, the referee ignored strong pleas.
The Steelmen then had a decent spell of play with Tony Watt looking lively in and around the box. And after Liam Polworth’s wicked inswinging cross was only partially cleared, the ball found its way to Watt but eight yards from goal his shot was blocked.
The ‘Well players, though, were finding it difficult to retain possession and match Rangers’ press and pace.
And that was highlighted after 27 minutes when Rangers went two ahead.
Scott Arfield sent Jones down the right channel and with Ricki Lamie unable to catch him, the former Kilmarnock winger cut into the box before driving the ball across Carson and inside the far post for a clinical finish.
Nine minutes later Rangers were handed a second penalty, this time with little debate as Liam Grimshaw’s raised arms blocked Kamara’s cross into the box. Tavernier comfortably steered the ball to Carson’s left to make it 3-0 and effectively kill the game.
Just before the half-time break ‘Well had a chance to reduce the leeway. Polworth’s drive from 15 yards was blocked and his second attempt deflected over Allan McGregor’s bar in a rare bit of action around the keeper’s goal.
That was the last action for Polworth and Stephen O’Donnell who were replaced by Barry Maguire and Christopher Long for the second half.
That allowed Motherwell to change to a back four and pose more of an attacking threat with Lang and Long supporting Watt up front. However, 12 minutes into the half, Sherwin Seedorf replaced the on-loan Wigan man.
The ‘Well subs combined for the first goal threat of the half when Seedorf fed the ball to Maguire and his cross was met by the towering Mugabi. But his header flashed narrowly over the bar.
In the 64th minute Tavernier lined up for a free kick into the box and then elected to shoot for goal, forcing Carson to nip smartly across his line to gather the ball low at his right hand post.
Two minutes the ‘Gers’ full back came closer to grabbing his hat-trick and brought out a better save from Carson. This time Tavernier whipped the ball over the defensive wall forcing the ‘Well ‘keeper to stretch high to his right claw the ball off his line.
It was Rangers who netted again in the 74th minute, when substitute Itten struck a superb shot from 20 yards which gave Carson no chance of stopping.
Three minutes later, O’Hara came very close to matching that effort when his superb curling free kick from the left side of the penalty area was touched onto the bar by McGregor.
A couple of minutes later the ‘Well defence was caught sleeping when Arfield’s corner bounced around the six yard box before Itten swept it into the net to make it 5-0.
Four minutes later, Seedorf drilled a corner into a packed box and with Mugabi and White challenging the ball, it bounced off Edmundson and past his keeper to give Motherwell scant consolation from a very hard working 90 minutes.
Motherwell: Carson, O’Donnell (Seedorf), Gallagher, Mugabi, Lamie, Grimshaw, O’Hara, Campbell. Polworth (Maguire), Watt (White), Lang (Long).
Subs: Morrison, McGinley, Hylton, Crawford, Cornelius.