In among a scrappy encounter littered with nine unnecessary bookings, Hughes’ strike late in the first half against his hometown team was enough to give Rangers their first victory at Fir Park in four attempts.

It would have not have made pleasant viewing for the football purists but it mattered little to Alex McLeish as he continues his extensive rebuilding of the Rangers squad.

McLeish – who started his managerial career at Fir Park – had promised to utilise the end of the season to give several youngsters a taste of first-team action although a batch of niggling injuries forced his hand this afternoon.

Of those still featuring in the manager’s long-term plans, Chris Burke, Peter Lovenkrands, Zurab Khizanishvili were all missing with minor knocks, joining long-term casualties Shota Arveladze and Mikel Arteta on the sidelines.

Their absence meant a recall to the starting 11 for Paolo Vanoli and Hamed Namouchi while youth players Alex Walker, Charlie Adam and Ross McCormack were all handed berths on the bench.

With McLeish threatening to shred his squad in the summer, impressing the manager was therefore the key motivator for those involved although the chance to record the first Rangers victory at Fir Park for three years should also have galvanised those in Light Blue.

Instead it was the home side who looked livelier in the opening period, with Stefan Klos required to pull out a string of impressive saves to keep his side in the game.

With Rangers struggling to adapt to a pitch laced with more sand than a bunker at St Andrews, Motherwell were attacking at will but seemed unable to find a way past the German stopper.

Scott McDonald was the first to threaten, propelling himself along the left wing before unleashing a shot that Klos did well to turn behind.

Minutes later the keeper was called into action again, throwing himself on top of a drive from Steven Craig before stretching athletically to tip over a header from the same man.

Klos saved his best move for the half-hour mark when he again did well to turn over Paul Quinn’s header from a dangerous Jason Dair corner.

What few Rangers attacks there were usually stemmed from neat interchanges between Namouchi, Michael Ball and Vanoli down the left flank.

Too often, however, a weak cross or poor control by the strikers saw a promising move break down without Gordon Marshall having to get his gloves dirty.

Frank de Boer pranged a free kick off the Motherwell wall before Namouchi and Hughes had ambitious efforts from long range comfortably clutched by the veteran goalkeeper.

Just as it looked as if the sides would disappear up the tunnel at half-time without a goal, Rangers – somewhat unexpectedly it has to be said – forged in front.

Craig Moore fed Michael Mols in the penalty box and his lay-off was turned past Marshall by Hughes from a tight angle.

The half ended with a booking for Alan Hutton in what was to be his last involvement in this encounter, Mo Ross taking the place of the 19 year-old when the teams trotted out to commence the second half.

It was Motherwell who again started in the ascendancy, with Jason Dair making room to spear a right-foot drive narrowly past Klos’ left-hand post.

In what was becoming quite a scrappy game, Rangers were struggling to create much in attack, with Vanoli arcing a free kick narrowly over the crossbar before Steven Thompson sent over an inviting cross from the right wing that found no takers in the centre.

On a bitterly cold afternoon – so much for British Summer Time – both sides tried to keep warm by hurtling into tackles, with Rangers picking up six bookings while ref John Rowbotham seemingly turned a blind eye to Motherwell’s misdemeanours, waiting until the 82nd minute before cautioning a member of the home side.

Gradually, Rangers were becoming the dominant side and only a fingertip block denied Michael Mols what looked a certain goal after the Dutchman had nodded on Ross’ cute cross.

With McLeish sending Walker on for his first-team debut – replacing Namouchi – the Ibrox side continued to edge forwards aiming to double their lead.

Mols slid an effort wide of the target after Thompson had headed into his path only for the linesman’s flag to save the Dutchman’s blushes.

Rowbotham by this time was making enemies on all four sides of the stadium with a series of baffling and frustrating decisions, as a sedate largely meaningless fixture threatened to erupt into all-out out conflict.

Motherwell rallied late in the game but Rangers held on for a precious away victory.

MOTHERWELL (4-4-2): 1 Marshall; 19 Quinn, 5 Craigan, 2 Corrigan, 3 Hammell; 21 Fagan, 9 Dair, 10 O’Donnell, 17 Craig; 11 Burns, 12 S McDonald (Clarkson 60)

Subs not used: Corr, K Macdonald, Kinniburgh, Wright

Booked: Dair (82), Craig (83), O’Donnell (89)

RANGERS (4-4-2): 1 Klos; 32 Hutton (Ross 46), 3 Moore, 5 de Boer, 18 Ball; 11 Rae, 27 Hughes, 37 Namouchi (Walker 73), 16 Vanoli; 19 Thompson, 10 Mols

Subs not used: McGregor, Adam, McCormack

Booked: Hutton (44), Namouchi (47), Moore (56), Hughes (61), de Boer (76), Ross (83)

Man of the Match: Stephen Hughes

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