A brave performance from Motherwell wasn’t enough to secure a Co-operative Cup Final berth as Rangers scraped to a 2-1 win at Hampden.
Walter Smith’s side went in, at the break, one goal to the good thanks to a spectacular Maurice Edu strike, in an otherwise even first half.
The Steelmen were superb in the second half, and gained a deserved equaliser thanks to a low drive from Keith Lasley, who was excellent on his return from injury.
But heartbreak was to follow as a moment of magic and a superb assist from Nikica Jelavic set up Steven Naismith to head home – and set up an Old Firm cup final.
Stuart McCall welcomed the influential Keith Lasley back into the starting line-up; the ‘Well stalwart slotting into a three-man central midfield alongside Hateley and Jennings. Murphy and Humphrey were charged with providing the width, either side of John Sutton.
Meanwhile Rangers notably left out Vladimir Weiss, who tormented the Steelmen on a previous visit to Fir Park in December.
After Aberdeen’s early capitulation the previous day, there must have been fears that the Steelmen would succumb to a similar stage-fright, but ‘Well settled confidently and after 70 seconds Jamie Murphy registered a decent poked effort following a Sutton flick-on.
In response, Lee McCulloch seemed on a personal mission to break the hearts of his old club. In the opening 15 minutes the former ‘Well man slashed two shots off target from just outside the box.
Another effort from outside the box – this time from a Whittaker free-kick – proved to be simply a prelude for a truly special Rangers opener.
Maurice Edu was given far too much space 25 yards out and, after shifting the ball on to his ‘weaker’ left foot, the American launched a stunning strike into the top corner, giving Randolph no chance – a piercing blow for a Motherwell side which had been tidy in the early stages and restricted the Gers to long-range efforts.
McCall’s men responded admirably from that hammer-blow, having the better of the possession for the rest of the half and firing a few shots towards Neil Alexander in the Rangers goal. Tom Hateley, Stevie Hammell and Jamie Murphy all looked to find their range with efforts from outside the area as the Steelmen looked to hit back.
Motherwell were first to threaten after a low-key opening to the second period. After some scrappy play in the final third the ball found its way to Steve Jennings 25 yards from goal, and the former Everton youth fired a powerful effort on target. Neil Alexander was aware enough to parry the ball away.
‘Well were unlucky to be behind at this point, and soon remedied the deficit with a special strike of their own. John Sutton showed marvelous strength and determination on the edge of the area to hold off two challenges and feed the ball back to Keith Lasley, and Motherwell’s returning hero arrowed a splendid low effort past the statuesque Neil Alexander.
Stuart McCall’s side had the wind at their sails, but Rangers reminded the Steelmen of their own threat with a powerful Lee McCulloch header and a Steve Davis strike as a very watchable contest entered the last 20 minutes.
And Rangers’ added touch of true quality saw them regain the lead after 75 minutes. £4 Million man Nikica Jelavic produced a moment of skill in the box befitting of his price-tag; a stunning step-over, leaving Hutchison for dead, before providing a pinpoint cross which Stevie Naismith stooped to head home.
There was enough time for another terrific chance for the Steelmen. Jamie Murphy whipped in a teasing back-post cross with five minutes left on the clock, and Stevie Saunders leapt highest to nod towards to bottom corner. Neil Alexander managed to cross his legs quickly enough to deny the Scotland cap, before Rangers smuggled clear.
Alexander had to be alive moments later as he dived to stop a low Jamie Murphy shot from just inside the box. The keeper held on to the drive – and ‘Well’s hopes for a place in the final slipped away.
[tab:As it happened]
Alan Burrows at Hampden Park
Full time – heroic effort but just not enough on the day – Lads applauded off by fans who appreciated the effort.
90+2mins – A late, late chance for Murphy. The young star just couldn’t get a hold of the shot and Alexander gathers easier.
90mins – Three mins of added time – C’mon ‘Well!
88mins – Awwwwwww! Saunders goes so close with a header. Alexander somehow saves it. Gutted!
79mins – Jones on for Tom Hateley!
76mins – GOAL Davis! Jelavic picks up loose ball – his cross to the back post finds Davis who heads home.
75mins – Quick fire double chance from Rangers. Davis almost hits the corner flag and Jelavic blasts wide.
73mins – McCulloch header over the bar. Fleck corner met by the ex Well man but his effort was way over,
67mins – Great goal from Lasley. Ball bounced about on the edge of the area and the midfielder drilled home from the edge of the box,
GOOOOALLLLL Motherwell! Keith Lasley!
59mins – Jennings shot from distance brings out an excellent save from Alexander. Unlucky from the Steelmen!
55mins – Fairly even first ten minutes of the 2nd half. Ball has spent enough time at both ends of the park. Rangers corner tho…
46mins – Kick Off in the 2nd half. No changes!
Half Time – Rangers 1 – 0 Motherwell. Steelmen were excellent and so unlucky to be behind.
43mins – Right footed half volley from Edu; no more than a pass back from the American.
42mins – Murphy turns inside and fires a decent shot just over the bar. Unlucky from the youngster…
35mins – Motherwell follow that with a lot shot of their own. Low bouncing free-kick from Hammell was easy enough for Alexander to catch.
34mins – Low shot by Davis is easy enough to catch. Hutchinson almost got caught out but wasn’t punished thankfully…
31mins – Neat corner from Motherwell – right from the training pitch. Short corner, dummied by Humph for Hateley but shot flew over.
26mins – Motherwell are playing some really decent stuff on the deck. Still can’t believe we’re 1-0 down.
20mins – GOAL for Rangers out of nothing. Edu shot from 30 yards nestles into the top right hand corner. That’s harsh on Motherwell.
19mins – Free-kick to Rangers on the outside the box. Whiitaker takes, Craigan, I think, heads over. Looked net bound…
17mins – Wee half chance for Well. Slack play in the Gers backline. Humphrey latches on to a ball, dinks it up for Sutton – header saved!
15mins – Offt, nearly kiss of death. Rangers move down the righr.. Jelavic lay-off to McCulloch who powers wide of the post.
14mins – Decent start so far… Tocuh wood (and the press box is wooden) that it keeps up!
5mins – Lafferty bursts through the middle but Randolph is out quick to clear. McCulloch follows with a shot that blazes over…
2mins – Murphy breaks onto a Sutton flick on but his shot from distance was easy enough for Alexander in the Rangers goal
1mins – Teams are out and ready! Let’s go! ‘Well to kick-off!
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“All I asked of them was to give a good account of themselves. To come off the back pitch as good as they can be and have no regrets.
“From the keeper to everyone up front, I think they all were excellent.
“I’m proud of the players – they gave a great performance. We probably deserved a little bit more than that.”
Rangers manager Walter Smith:
“Motherwell, having the extra man in midfield, were always going to make it difficult for us unless we were right on top of our game.
“There were spells where we played well throughout the match but others where Motherwell had good possession of the ball because of that extra man.
“There were not that many opportunities for either side and we are just delighted to get through.
“We are disappointed at the goal we lost, but we are happy to be in the final and that was the object.”