RANGERS earned another hard-fought three points in the Scottish Premiership this afternoon by defeating Motherwell at Fir Park.
Goals either side of half-time from Nikola Katic and Alfredo Morelos secured the victory for Gers – but there was a blow following Morelos’ strike as he was shown a second yellow card.
Boss Steven Gerrard opted to name an unchanged line-up this afternoon, sticking with the same side which drew 1-1 with BSC Young Boys on Thursday to qualify for the Last 32 of the Europa League.
Rangers began the game on the front foot, but it was the home side who had the first big chance of the game on 12 minutes.
Christopher Long profited from a mix-up in the Gers defence to charge into the area and commit Allan McGregor before rounding him in the right of the box.
He tried to square for the incoming Devante Cole, but James Tavernier came in with a superb tackle before Gers managed to smuggle the ball clear through Connor Goldson.
Joe Aribo had a header on the end of a Borna Barisic corner cleared off the line by Liam Grimshaw, while Glen Kamara shot over the bar from the edge of the area when goalkeeper Mark Gillespie flapped an Aribo cross into his path.
Gillespie then made a super one-handed save from Alfredo Morelos from a tight angle after super build-up play involving Ryan Kent and Aribo – who overhead-kicked the ball into Kent’s path from the halfway line.
The goalkeeper then made another top stop down to his left on the end of a venomous Morelos snapshot – and this spell of pressure from the visitors only foretold what was coming next.
From the resulting corner from that save, Barisic’s ball was met by Nikola Katic to stoop superbly and nod the ball high into the net – despite being held back by Bevis Mugabe.
It was the Croatian’s second goal of the season, and certainly deserved on the balance of play to that point.
Gers were soon in search of a second, and Morelos somehow got something on the end of a Tavernier cross to the back-post, but could only poke an effort into the side netting.
Morelos had another effort just by the right-post, while after wonderfully taking in a Barisic pass on the turn, Gillespie again saved from him low to the goalkeeper’s right.
Morelos had another opportunity to bury the game at the start of the second half, latching onto the end of a quickly taken Barisic free-kick to run in on goal, but Gillespie came quickly off his line to close the angle and save.
The chances just kept coming, and Kent again had Gillespie scrambling to block at his near post with an effort before McGregor made an outrageous save at the other end to deny the home side.
A Jake Carroll long-throw was knocked-on to the back post for Long, but incredibly, McGregor somehow kept his header out from point-blank range before the Light Blues smuggled the ball behind for a corner.
Finally, however, Rangers did manage to grab a second goal on 69 minutes – and it came from Alfredo Morelos’ 27th of a remarkable season.
Gers worked the ball well to Joe Aribo on the right and his cross looked to be met by Morelos in the middle, though Declan Gallagher got there first with a tackle.
The loose ball came up perfectly for Morelos, however, and he turned and smashed the ball into the bottom corner to hand his side the cushion they had been chasing.
Drama was to follow, however. Morelos celebrated his goal in front of the Motherwell supporters– before turning to face and take the acclaim of the huge traveling support.
After seemingly taking advice in his ear, referee Don Robertson opted to show the Colombian a second yellow card, having earlier cautioned him for persistent fouling.
To their credit, Gers saw the game out with their 10-men with maximum comfort, and could even have added a third with Barisic striking the inside of the post with a stunning free-kick effort 25-yards from goal.
RANGERS: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Barisic; Arfield (Stewart, 90), Jack, Kamara; Aribo (Defoe, 90), Morelos, Kent (Polster, 84)
SUBS NOT USED: Foderingham, Edmundson, Halliday, Barker.
MOTHERWELL: Gillespie, Carroll, Grimshaw, Campbell, Long, Hylton (Scott, 59), Polworth (Seedorf, 65), Donnelly, Mugabi (O’Hara, 78) Gallagher, Cole.
SUBS NOT USED: Carson, Tait, Hartley, MacIver.
REFEREE: Don Robertson