Welcome to Scottish football, Joey, and to the home of the Thunderclap. Joey Barton, Rangers’ big-name summer signing, sat in the stand and had to suffer along with the rest of us while the players at least enjoyed the benefit of a run around.
He might wonder what he has let himself in for. Barton watched an error-strewn first half from the back of the Fir Park main stand and he did not return, at least not to the same seat, after the interval.
Second-half goals by James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn, both reportedly stalling on signing extended contracts, settled a tie enlivened somewhat by the appearance of Niko Kranjcar and Josh Windass, Barton’s fellow summer recruits at Ibrox.
Rangers pulled themselves together after surviving a raft of early Motherwell chances and could have won by more. Even before Waghorn’s match-sealing goal the home fans had melted away, meaning no more synchronised clapping of the type replicated by Iceland to such good effect during Euro 2016.
It might be early in the season but it was still supposed to be a competitive match, which made it all the more baffling when referee Steven McLean, with his nearside assistant Graham Chambers, declined to penalise Motherwell goalkeeper Craig Samson after he clearly used his hand outside the box to deny Waghorn. “It was a good save,” Motherwell manager Mark McGhee wryly noted later.
McLean also ignored claims for a late penalty when Barrie Mckay’s shot struck Ben Heneghan’s hand with such force the slap of ball on skin was heard from the back of the stand.
The grass was so lush the players left footmarks on it but it was a rather more arid landscape if one was searching for quality. Waghorn provided something to relish for Rangers fans with his left-footed injury-time strike, which curled into the net off the far post. He later stressed he is happy to remain at Ibrox and is leaving negotiations about a new contract to his agent.
Tavernier’s 49th minute goal from the edge of the box, from Waghorn’s assist, was another rare moment of composure in an untidy contest.
It might have only been the Betfred Cup. But it was historic in a way. This was Rangers’ first competitive game as a top-flight club since 2012. However, the Rangers side had a very familiar look about it – only Harry Forrester’s inclusion saw it differ from the line-up at Hampden Park on 21 May. Motherwell, on the other hand, included three new signings – Richard Tait, Heneghan and Carl McHugh.
Having conceded a goal in injury time in their last competitive outing, against Hibs in the Scottish Cup final, Rangers almost succeeded in losing one within the opening four minutes. In fact, make that two.
Andy Halliday cleared off the line from Lionel Ainsworth’s effort at the back post while Tavernier’s short backpass offered Scott McDonald a glimpse of goal, his attempted dink over Wes Foderingham blocked by the goalkeeper.
A third opportunity presented itself a few minutes later following a slide-rule pass by Ainsworth into Chris Cadden’s path. He took the ball in his stride but dragged his shot just wide of Foderingham’s far post.
“We only won 6-1,” mocked the Motherwell fans, with reference to their play-off final victory over Rangers 14 months ago. The Ibrox side reached the top flight in the end, if a year later than planned. While there is still time to fine-tune, Mark Warburton must still have felt concern over the way his backline was repeatedly breached during these opening stages. “Twelve minutes of rustiness”, is how Warburton described it.
Rangers did eventually settle but not before Foderingham was required to tip a fierce effort by Marvin Johnson past his far post.
Yes, there were chances. Harry Forrester hit the bar in the second half and substitute Louis Moult sent a header just wide for Motherwell. But it was a game of poor quality, understandably given its scheduling so early in the summer. No amount of hysterical re-branding of a competition that seemed perfectly serviceable in its previous form could disguise the rotten fare.
When players of the proven quality of Kranjcar are miskicking in front of goal, it truly is reason to wonder why spectators are being asked to pay for a so-called competitive fixture when teams are so ill-prepared. More than 6,900 fans paid for the privilege of seeing two sides who will meet at least three times in the coming season.
Rangers don’t have long to wait until their next Group F fixture, which is on Tuesday against Annan Athletic. Warburton revealed that Barton should be involved in this clash, as might Joe Dodoo. The Rangers manager expressed confidence that the Leicester City striker will arrive on a permanent deal at the start of this week.