RANGERS got their 2016/17 campaign off to a winning start with victory at Fir Park in the Betfred League Cup group stage this afternoon.
Made to work hard for the win by Mark McGhee’s Steelmen, James Tavernier notched the first goal of the game three minutes into the second half to delight the thousands of Gers fans who had made the short trip down to North Lanarkshire before Martyn Waghorn made sure of the three points with a curled effort in injury time.
The Light Blues boasted a starting line-up which was a real throwback to last season with none of Mark Warburton’s nine new signings involved from the start.
Within the opening minute, the home side came close to a lead with Rangers all over the place at the back.
Bursting clear down the left and beyond Rangers’ high defensive line went Marvin Johnson, and his cross found its way to Scott McDonald closing in from the opposite flank. His shot from an acute angle beat Wes Foderingham, but on the line was Andy Halliday who had darted back to support his defenders, and he managed to fire the ball clear before it could cross into the net.
It was a nervy start from the visitors, and that continued in the embryotic minutes with James Tavernier caught in possession deep in his own half by McDonald, allowing the Australian to nip in for another shot on goal, which this time Foderingham was equal to.
A whole seven minutes passed with Rangers really failing to make any significant venture into the Well half, but when they eventually did, Lee Wallace came within a whisker of opening the scoring.
A neat passing move started by Kenny Miller saw him find Harry Forrester inside the box. He showed good strength to hold off Ben Heneghan before laying the ball off for captain Wallace whose thumping drive whistled just over the top of Craig Samson’s bar.
Defensively however, things were becoming rather concerning for Rangers, as again the home side picked their way through the rearguard far too easily. Wallace was the latest Gers player to be caught in possession, this time by Lionel Ainsworth, and he thread a superb ball through to the pacey Chris Cadden, but he dragged his effort wide of Foderingham’s right-hand post.
The Gers losing the ball in midfield and putting themselves under pressure at the back was becoming an all too regular feature, and they were almost punished again with Johnson picking the ball up on the halfway line and sprinting forward, and he forced Foderingham into an excellent save to deny him the opening counter.
Warburton’s boys were in need of some inspiration, and Martyn Waghorn came close to providing it. Receiving an excellent ball from Barrie McKay who was stationed on the opposite flank, he cut inside Stevie Hammell and unleashed a curling drive which Samson did well to turn over the bar with his fingertips.
Trouble at the back was never too far away though, and after Tavernier had made a mess of clearing an Ainsworth cross, the ball dropped for Johnson who fired well over the bar with his latest attempt of the match.
As half time approached, Rangers began to look a little more composed in possession, stroking the ball about well on the immaculate Fir Park turf, and through their better play, they created a few decent chances.
Firstly, Waghorn somehow got between both of Well’s centre-halves on the penalty spot to meet a Miller cross with his head, but his effort was weak and straight at Samson.
Miller and Waghorn then combined again with the Englishman stroking the ball into the back of the net only to be denied by the linesman’s flag after he adjudged Miller’s initial touch to be beyond the last defender.
Still, there was one more scare for the Light Blues to make it through before the interval as an Ainsworth free-kick found McDonald unmarked inside the six-yard area, but he shot straight at Foderingham, and at the other end, the half closed with a weak Tavernier free-kick falling into Samson’s gloves while Miller saw an effort go off target after he and Waghorn combined yet again and then Waghorn volleyed just over on the turn after McManus failed to properly clear a Forrester ball into the area.
Into the second half, and Rangers began in full control of proceedings, with their play playing off three minutes after the restart as James Tavernier slammed his side ahead.
A neat passing move along the Motherwell 18-yard line from McKay, Holt and Miller saw Waghorn released into the right-hand corner of the area. He pulled the ball back for Tavernier on the edge of the box, and he slewed the ball expertly into the top corner.
Tavernier grabbed the first goal of last season too in the 6-2 win over Hibernian at Easter Road, and he will be looking to achieve something similar to his superb total of 15 goals from that campaign.
And for as much as his goalscoring record was highly impressive, his assist record too was excellent, and he came close to another of those minutes later, skinning Hammell before cutting the ball back for Forrester 15-yards from goal, but his shot cracked the crossbar as the home side survived for now in what was a much more vibrant Gers performance.
The hour mark saw the long-awaited debut from Niko Kranjcar, but it was a fellow substitute in Michael O’Halloran who almost had an immediate impact.
Latching on to a Wallace cross, he couldn’t quite sort out his feet although Wallace had charged in from his crossing position and tested Samson with a fierce drive.
Kranjcar then fashioned a chance of his own after Jason Holt found him at the back post with a driven cross, but his effort crashed off the advertising hoardings rather than the back of the net.
Rangers were playing some superb football, and Josh Windass, with his first involvement of the game, burst forward from midfield, nutmegged McManus and found McKay unmarked at the back post, but with the goal at his mercy, he fired high over the bar.
But for all the visitors were on top, a warning shot was fired across their bows by Well sub Louis Moult who got above Rob Kiernan to nod a Johnson cross wide of the target.
The game was to close in rather controversial fashion with Rangers on the wrong end of two contentious decisions in the closing minutes.
Firstly, the glove of goalkeeper Samson looked to deny Waghorn well outside the penalty area as the Gers striker bore down on goal, before a Barrie McKay shot looked to strike the arm of Heneghan on route to the net.
The controversy was all blown away in the first minute of stoppage time however, as Waghorn grabbed his first goal of the season to set the seal on victory.
Receiving the ball on the edge of the area, he curled a beautiful effort beyond the reach of Samson before the ball rebounded off the post, trickled along the goalline and nestled in the back off the net after another deflection off the opposite upright.
Plenty of things changed in this world over the summer period. At least it seems Rangers winning a football match isn’t one of them.
RANGERS: Foderingham; Tavernier, Wilson, Kiernan, Wallace; Halliday, Holt (Windass, 69), Forrester (Kranjcar, 60); Waghorn, Miller (O’Halloran, 60), McKay.
SUBS NOT USED: Gilks, Hodson, Hill, Windass, Thompson.
MOTHERWELL: Samson, Tait, Hammell, Heneghan, McManus, Ainsworth (Thomas, 67), McHugh, Johnson, Cadden (Blyth, 78), Chalmers (Moult, 59), McDonald.
SUBS NOT USED: Brill, Ferguson, Campbell, MacLean.
REFEREE: Steven MacLean