Motherwell 1 - 5 Rangers: Ruthless display keeps Steven Gerrard’s men on top
On an afternoon laden with positives for Gerrard, the Rangers manager saw winger Jordan Jones respond positively to being handed a rare starting appearance, scoring his first goal for the club in a bright display, while Swiss international striker Cedric Itten came off the bench to open his account with a double.
Two emphatically converted penalties by captain James Tavernier underpinned the clinical rout of a Motherwell side handed late but scant consolation by a George Edmundson own goal.
After dropping two points against Hibs at Easter Road seven days earlier, this was the kind of away-day performance Rangers must replicate regularly this season in order to stay the course in the title race.
Rangers seized control of the contest from the start and only an outstanding save by Trevor Carson denied them an opener after only 50 seconds.
Rickie Lamie’s untidy challenge on Scott Arfield conceded a free-kick which Tavernier swung in from the right. Alfredo Morelos was not picked up by the Motherwell defence and the striker’s header looked like a scoring effort all the way until Carson displayed tremendous agility and reactions to get down low to his right and turn the ball behind for a corner.
But the home goalkeeper had no answer when Tavernier secured a reward for Rangers’ early dominance with their 12th minute breakthrough from the spot.
Calvin Bassey, handed his first starting appearance since his summer move from Leicester City, appeared determined to show he can be a more than able deputy for Borna Barisic at left-back and it was his run and cross which led to the penalty award.
As Bevis Mugabi moved in to intercept the ball ahead of Arfield, it struck his arm. It was a harsh call on the Ugandan international defender but referee Bobby Madden had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Tavernier stepped forward and gave Carson no chance whatsoever with a firmly struck effort which beat the goalkeeper via the inside of his right-hand post.
Motherwell tried to muster a response and had Rangers on the back foot for the first time when Allan Campbell went down in the box under a challenge by Filip Helander. Despite the optimistic appeals of some of his team-mates, Campbell’s muted reaction indicated the referee was right to reject any claim for a penalty.
The hosts threatened again when Tony Watt wriggled his way into the penalty area, the striker prevented from getting a shot away by a perfectly-timed challenge by Helander.
Rangers soon reasserted their authority and made it 2-0 in the 28th minute. It was a sweet moment for Jones who was making his first starting appearance in the league since August 2019.
Arfield’s clever pass inside Motherwell defender Rickie Lamie set Jones cutting in from the right before he guided a fine left foot shot beyond Carson and in off the base of the goalkeeper’s right hand post.
Rangers exerted an even firmer grip on the game with Tavernier’s second penalty of the afternoon eight minutes before half-time. If there had been any doubt about their first award, there was little dispute about this one. Again, it was for handball as Liam Grimshaw used an arm as Motherwell tried to clear a dangerous corner from Ryan Kent.
Tavernier produced another emphatic finish from 12 yards, this time driving the ball low to Carson’s left and into the corner.
The game looked pretty much up for Motherwell but they battled on grimly and almost pulled one back just before the break when Liam Polworth saw a shot deflected over off Helander.
Motherwell made a double substitution at the start of the second half with Stephen O’Donnell and Polworth replaced by Barry Maguire and Christopher Long. But while they enjoyed a greater share of possession and attacking territory for a spell, they struggled to create any clear-cut openings which might have offered them some hope of mounting an unlikely comeback.
Rangers were now more than content to hit the hosts on the break and Jones should have done better when he led one such rapid counter attack in the 59th minute, greedily curling a shot well off target when a pass inside to Kent looked the better option.
Motherwell came close to reducing the deficit four minutes later, sloppy defending by Rangers allowing Mugabi to meet a Maguire cross with a good header which flew just over the crossbar.
Tavernier almost completed a hat-trick in spectacular fashion when his free-kick from 25 yards was clawed away to safety by Carson high to his right. But the Motherwell keeper was beaten again when Itten, having replaced Kent, broke his scoring duck in some style.
When a cross from Arfield found its way into his path, the big striker showed a neat touch and great awareness to turn and lash a right-foot shot high beyond the helpless Carson from the edge of the penalty area.
Allan McGregor finally had to make his first save of the game in the 78th minute, reacting smartly to keep out Mark O’Hara’s sweetly-struck free-kick, before Rangers added a fifth two minutes later when Itten prodded the ball home from close range as it broke kindly for him from a Tavernier set piece.
The only blot on Rangers’ afternoon came in the shape of the late own goal by substitute Edmundson who knew little about it as the ball cannoned off him and beyond McGregor from a Sherwin Seedorf corner.
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