Rangers skipper James Tavernier closed in on his Ibrox century as the skipper’s 98th goal for the club got Michael Beale’s ragged Rangers going at Fir Park on their way to 4-2 win.
Kevin van Veen’s early opener threatened to end the new Rangers manager’s unbeaten Premiership record but Tavernier’s free-kick ensured the teams went in level at the break. It was the Light Blues who roared out the traps at the start of the second period as Fashion Sakala headed home.
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It wasn’t quite plain sailing from that point as Steelmen substitute Bevis Mugabi squared things up at 2-2 when the Ibrox defence fell apart at a corner. But Gers ultimately eased to their 12th win from 13 league games under the Londoner as goals from Todd Cantwell and Malik Tillman killed off the hosts, who finished with 10-men after Callum Slattery was sent off for two bookings.
A recurring theme of Beale’s tenure has been slow starts and Gers once again stumbled out the blocks as they shipped the opener only three minutes in.
The Ibrox backline were static as former Ranger Sean Goss popped a terrific ball over the top for Max Johnston to race on to, with the Scotland Under-21 ace delivering a perfect low pass for van Veen to slot home at the back post.
It looked touch and go for offside with the first pass but after a minute’s deliberation VAR Andrew Dallas gave the go ahead for the strike to stand. Gers have found a way to respond to falling behind in all but their Viaplay Cup Final loss but it took them a while to get going this time.
Ridvan Yilmaz – back in for his first start since late October – found himself in decent crossing positions but couldn’t pick out a blue jersey. Antonio Colak had a shot blocked by Callum Butcher after Ryan Jack hit the bye-line.
But they eventually levelled 23 minutes in when Slattery was pulled up for a lunge on John Lundstram just outside the Well box. Liam Kelly got himself across his goal line as Tavernier swept his set-piece over the wall but the Scotland hopeful was actually behind the whitewash when he got a hand to the ball.
Lundstram did well to control his shot as a loose ball dropped for him on the edge of the box. Kelly only had time to put his body in the way this time but Sakala couldn’t take advantage as he hooked wide on the rebound. Goldson then fired over at the back post with the last kick of the first half as Tavernier found his centre-back with a deep corner.
Rangers were ragged in the first 45 minutes but they clicked brilliantly into gear inside the opening 65 seconds of the second period. Jack and Todd Cantwell led the charge as they worked possession to Tavernier wide on the right.
Well defender James Furlong failed to get tight enough to the Ibrox skipper as he whipped in a devilish delivery that Sakala nodded home with a thumping header as he climbed above Paul McGinn.
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Colak wasted a golden chance to put Gers on Easy Street moments later as he fired into the side netting with Sakala screaming for another tap in. Instead they were pegged back by a goal that Beale will view as a shambles from start to finish.
From Lundstram unnecessarily putting the ball out for a corner, Tavernier’s wayward header at Furlong’s delivery, the skipper’s fresh air swipe as Mugabi beat Goldson to the loose ball and then to Allan McGregor allowing the big Well defender’s prod to trickle over, it was a mess around.
It could have got even worse for the visitors had van Veen managed to get his lob on target after he took the ball past the on-rushing McGregor. But it was Kettlewell’s team who had to lament their missed opportunity as Rangers raged back in front on 63 minutes.
Kent fed Sakala as the Zambian raced into the box. Kelly produced two big blocks as Colak and Tavernier took aim but the keeper was finally beaten as Cantwell slammed home his first goal for the club.
And Gers made sure of the points six minutes later as substitutes Alfredo Morelos and Tillman combined, with the Colombian pulling the ball back for the American playmaker, who nearly took the net off as he laced the ball into the top bin.
Motherwell’s chances from that point grew even bleaker as Slattery coped a harsh second yellow after a flailing arm brushed the face of Cantwell as he tried to hold off the Ibrox midfielder.
Resilient Rangers recover again
Michael Beale will surely prefer his side didn’t offer up opponents a goal of a start so regularly but the Ibrox gaffer can have few complaints about the way his team responded to those set-backs.
The Fir Park victory was the eighth time Gers have rescued a result from a losing position since the Londoner took charge, earning seven wins and a draw.
Their Viaplay Cup final loss to Celtic was the only time so far Gers have been able to dig themselves out of a hole.
But there certainly remains big concerns over this side’s approach to starting matches. Tavernier was one of the few men in blue who looked like he was bang at it during a ropey opening half and it was his free-kick that got Gers going after Kevin van Veen’s early opener.
Sakala looked like he’d have struggled to have controlled a bag of cement before the break but it was his firm header that put Beale’s side in front barely a minute after the change of ends.
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There was another hiccup for the Ibrox men to overcome as Bevis Mugabi squared things up again but goals from Todd Cantwell and Malik Tillman eventually saw Rangers power to the points.
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The Union Bears decided a no show was better than being told they couldn’t have their say as they were banned from unfurling banners critical of the police during last week’s win over Raith Rovers.
But Rangers chiefs were unable to stop the ultras making their point at Fir Park.
Flags calling for the removal of chief exec Stewart Robertson and sporting director Ross Wilson were planted in every seat in the away end along with a 20 foot display again declaring it’s “Time for change”. Well’s singing section weren’t happy either
The Block E ultras staged their own protest after accusing Fir Park bosses of “criminalising fans” having been repeatedly refused access to the stadium to set up their tifo displays.
They opted to remain outside the ground for the first 15 minutes, leaving their section in the far corner empty bar two banners that read “Heavy Hands – Empty Stands”. Their demo meant they missed Van Veen’s goal back they were back inside in time to see Tavernier sweep the visitors level.
Kelly’s Scotland hopes slip through his fingers
Liam Kelly was hoping a big display might catch Steve Clarke’s eye as the Scotland boss weighs up his No.1 dilemma ahead of next week’s Euro 2020 qualifiers with Cyprus and Spain.
But he’ll didn’t exactly boost his prospects of forcing his way past Angus Gunn and Zander Clark with the way he handled Gers’ first-half equaliser.
The Fir Park stopper got across his line smartly as Tavernier swung his free-kick over the Well wall but he was actually behind the whitewash by the team he got a weak hand to the ball.
There were a couple of big blocks in the build up to the Light Blues’ third but there was no stopping any of the finishes that eventually put Beale’s side on course for victory.