With Hearts though winning comfortably at home to Dunfermline, the Light Blues’ task remains the same as it was at the start of the day, to try to claw back a three-point gap albeit with just five games remaining in which to do so.
It was a surprisingly edgy performance from Alex McLeish’s side who went in front through Kris Boyd’s strike midway through the first half but rarely looked like extending that lead in the 70 or so minutes that remained thereafter.
Credit must also go to Motherwell who arrived at Ibrox full of attacking intent, in stark contrast to Rangers’ previous guests, Dunfermline, who had redefined the very concept of defensive football by operating in a hopefully never to be seen again 5-5-0 formation.
Victory here, combined with favourable results elsewhere, could have elevated Terry Butcher’s men into the top half of the table for the post-split segment of the season and they started brightly, looking to capitalise on any hesitancy in the Rangers defence.
Martyn Corrigan, ambling forward from the back, had already dragged a hopeful shot wide when Richie Foran passed up an even better opportunity to put his side in front but saw his volley from an unmarked position acrobatically tipped over by Ronald Waterreus, whose mere presence seemed to divide the home support.
While not starting with the same fluency they had produced the previous week at Tannadice, there was enough intent in Rangers’ play to cause considerable panic in the visitors’ defence.
Barry Ferguson dragged a tame effort wide before Thomas Buffel – who would prove to be an influential figure once more – chose the wrong option when he tried to play in Steven Smith when a pass to Peter Lovenkrands looked a more shrewd move.
You almost had to rub your eyes to believe it was the young left full-back who was galloping forward in the sort of position wide on the right normally taken up by his stricken chum Chris Burke, currently sidelined with a groin injury, but a ball he took flush on the face moments earlier may help explain the nosebleeds, both literal and metaphorical.
Rangers were gradually emerging as the dominant force in a fiercely-contested match and deservedly went in front after 26 minutes.
A searching pass from Ferguson – who performed admirably again despite his on-going ankle problems – sent Buffel racing clear and the Belgian unselfishly speared a pass across to Boyd who unceremoniously rattled in his 31st goal of the season.
With Hearts winning convincingly on the other side of the country, the impetus was on Rangers to try to extend their lead but they were unable to do so before the break, a Lovenkrands volley wide of target the closest they came to further troubling their visitors.
On an unseasonably cold day, Rangers continued to knock at the door early in the second half without greatly troubling former Ibrox youth keeper Graeme Smith in the visitors’ goal.
As in the first half, the best early chance fell to Motherwell and again Foran was unable to thread his shot beyond Waterreus now booed and applauded in equal measure at the other end of the ground.
Rangers’ most promising chance was a well-worked 1-2 between Ferguson and Boyd that culminated in the skipper fizzing in a shot that Smith blocked adroitly.
The game then tailed off amid a series of misplaced passes and little real goalmouth action although Lovenkrands came close to extending Rangers’ lead when he sped past Stephen Craigan but was unable to poke the ball beyond Smith who blocked well.
Foran missed a third golden chance to bring his team back into contention when he volleyed wide before Nacho Novo took the field to replace goal scorer, Boyd.
It made for a surprisingly tense finish and Motherwell almost snatched a point late in the game when substitute David Clarkson made space in the box to fire in a ferocious effort that Waterreus expertly diverted over his crossbar to ensure the three points stayed at Ibrox.
RANGERS (4-4-2): 25 Waterreus; 20 Hutton, 14 Kyrgiakos, 16 Rodriguez, 34 Smith; 26 Lovenkrands (Murray 87), 7 Hemdani, 6 Ferguson, 9 Prso; 15 Boyd (Novo 72), 4 Buffel (G Rae 85)
Subs not used: Klos, Andrews, N’Guessan, Malcolm
MOTHERWELL (4-4-2): 15 Smith; 2 Corrigan, 5 Craigan, 22 Kinniburgh, 11 Paterson; 17 McBride (Hamilton 77), 10 O’Donnell, 6 McCormack (Kerr 84), 9 Foran; 14 McGarry (Clarkson 77), 7 McDonald
Subs not used: Meldrum, Leitch, Thermeus, Fitzpatrick
Booked: McCormack (42), Foran (89)