Rangers reduced Celtic's Scottish Premier League lead to four points with a nervy 1-0 victory at home to Motherwell on Wednesday.
Gers captain Barry Ferguson scored the only goal of the game in the 74th minute to give his side their first SPL victory since they defeated their Old Firm rivals on March 29. And the result means Rangers, who have two games in hand over Celtic, still have the destination of the SPL in their hands.
Walter Smith was satisfied with the win, but praised Motherwell’s performance.
“You have to give Motherwell credit. They set out their team well and made it awkward for us,” Smith said. “We started the game very well and had two or three good chances in the first 15 minutes, but after that Motherwell had a bit of possession and frustrated us. If they’d had a better final ball they could have hurts us more, but in the second half we had most of the territorial play although we missed a wee bit of spark in the final third. But I was just delighted when we got the goal and it was a big victory for us at this stage in the season.”
The Ibrox side had ditched their familiar 4-5-1 formation for a more attacking 4-4-2 in a game they knew they had to win. In the second minute Ferguson’s slide-rule pass put Kris Boyd racing in on goal, but a great saving tackle by Motherwell defender Stephen Craigan blocked his shot.
Rangers were desperately close to the opener in the 10th minute. David Weir got on the end of Steven Davis’ corner to send a looping header toward the top corner, only for Motherwell goalkeeper Graeme Smith to make a fine save, tipping the ball onto the crossbar. The rebound fell to Nacho Novo, but the Spaniard could only smash the ball into the side-netting.
After those early chances Motherwell grew in confidence and began to play some nice possession soccer that frustrated the Rangers fans, but did not result in clear scoring opportunities.
However, in the 34th minute the visitors should have been ahead when two former Gers linked-up. Stephen Hughes raced down the left, cut inside and rolled the ball across to Ross McCormack, but from only meters out he dragged his shot wide.
Just before halftime Rangers’ French forward Jean-Claude Darcheville should have hit the target instead of screwing the ball wide. Motherwell had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping the score level in the 69th minute when he dived bravely at the feet of Novo, who had looked certain to score.
Although Rangers were now dominating, their supporters — making up the vast majority of the 48,238 crowd — were becoming increasingly nervous the longer the game remained goalless. However, the Ibrox side’s captain led by example in the 74th minute to score a goal that could decide the destination of the title.
Another corner from Davis was nodded on to the back post where Ferguson was waiting to fire a right-foot shot back across goal and into the opposite top corner of the net.
Motherwell manager Mark McGhee was disappointed at the goal his side conceded, but was not too downhearted at the result.
“The defeat today has not harmed our ambitions of finishing third and qualifying for the UEFA Cup. Anything we manage to take from Rangers or Celtic is a bonus and Saturday’s game against Aberdeen is more important,” McGhee said. “We played well but conceded another poor goal. We lost goals from cross balls against Celtic and Dundee United and we lost another one against Rangers, so I’m annoyed about that.”