RANGERS and Motherwell had to settle for a point each from a Premiership clash which had fans biting their nails until referee Steven McLean’s final whistle.
After a first half which saw Louis Moult score for the visitors with a header after just three minutes, a triple substitution from Pedro Caixinha at the break had the desired effect with one of the subs, Joe Garner, equalising with a terrific finish on the hour mark.
That doesn’t tell the full story though, as the second period was packed with drama, tension and goalscoring chances, with Wes Foderingham and his opposite number Craig Samson producing heroics between the posts.
Having conceded the first goal in the previous two home games against Motherwell this season, the Light Blues remarkably did it again on this occasion after just two minutes of play.
A deep corner was curled over the Rangers players in the box to the unmarked Moult and the striker’s header from six yards had too much power for Foderingham.
It was the perfect start for the visitors who had midfielder Carl McHugh playing in the centre of a three-man defence with Stephen McManus and Richard Tait injured.
Rangers, however, were struggling to test the Steelman’s number one Samson who didn’t have much to do before he gave the ref a decision to make with 21 minutes on the clock.
Jon Toral played a defence-splitting pass through to Martyn Waghorn who fell to the ground as he knocked the ball past the keeper who had dived at his feet.
McLean immediately ran over and with fans hoping for a penalty, the official issued the first yellow card of the game to the striker for simulation.
There was an air of frustration around the ground at this stage of the match, but not from the Motherwell fans of course, and they were back out their seats when Scott McDonald tried his luck from 25 yards but the ball flew over Foderingham’s goal.
There was certainly an edge to the contest with both teams in need of a win, and on the half-hour mark a poor challenge by Stephen Pearson on Toral on the halfway line earned the midfielder a deserved booking.
Rangers were in need of a moment of inspiration and on 38 minutes McKay created his side’s best chance of the game up to this point.
The jet-heeled winger darted past right-back Chris Cadden to the byline before cutting back on to his right foot. His low cross was perfect for Waghorn who took a touch before unleashing a left-foot shot which flashed across the goal and beyond the far post.
After a disappointing first 45 a change was expected at the break, but three was totally unexpected, with Michael O’Halloran replacing Lee Hodson, Joe Garner going on for Lee Wallace – who appeared to take a knock – and Andy Halliday switching with Clint Hill.
For several minutes fans could be heard discussing the changes to formation and tactics as Toral moved to centre half with Halliday to his left and Rob Kiernan to his right in what appeared to be a 3-5-2 formation which also saw Miller drop deep to allow Garner to partner Waghorn.
Whatever, it was a brave and bold move from the Portuguese manager and it got a reaction from the supporters and also from the players on the pitch.
On 52 minutes a deep cross from McKay was headed back across goal by Garner but Emerson Hyndman couldn’t get enough purchase on the ball to force it over the line from a few yards out.
Rangers kept the pressure on and just three minutes later Garner’s header from a McKay corner was pushed away by Samson at full stretch.
On 60 minutes the Light Blues got the goal they deserved and what a cracker it was from Garner.
Miller received the ball on the right wing and his deep cross looked to be too far in front of his teammate.
That wasn’t the case though and Garner somehow managed to hook the ball into the net with his left foot before celebrating with his arms raised in front of the Copland Road Stand.
It was now game on and what followed was relentless action and drama.
Firstly, Motherwell thought they had their noses in front when the ball was put in the net by Pearson but the Govan Stand linesman had already raised his flag.
Foderingham then had to produce a moment of magic when he dived low to his right to deny Ryan Bowman as his header arrowed towards the bottom corner of the net.
At this stage the Motherwell players must have wondered if it was going to be their day, and this was before Foderingham produced a stunning double save from McDonald and Moult!
While all this was going on Rangers still looked a threat and on 76 minutes a low curler from Garner had Samson producing another terrific stop with his fingertips.
In the latter stages both teams pushed for a second goal – with Hyndman and McDonald having late chances – but the game finished 1-1 and after the effort both teams put in throughout the second half, and the opportunities that were created, few would argue it was a fair result.
RANGERS: Foderingham, Hodson (O’Halloran 45), Kiernan, Hill (Halliday 45) Wallace (Garner 45); Hyndman, Toral, Holt, McKay, Miller, Waghorn.
SUBS: Alnwick, Dodoo, Garner, Windass, Senderos.
GOALS: Garner 60
BOOKINGS: Waghorn, Toral
MOTHERWELL: Samson, Heneghan, McHugh, Hammell, Cadden, Clay (Lasley 49), Pearson, Frear, Bowman (Blyth 75), McDonald, Moult (Ainsworth 79).
SUBS: Griffiths, Jules, McMillan, Gordon.
GOALS: Moult 3
BOOKINGS: Pearson, McHugh, Lasley
REF: Steven McLean