MOTHERWELL emphatically preserved their top-flight status on a day which starkly underlined why Rangers are currently unfit for purpose in their quest to reclaim former glories.
Motherwell - 3
Johnson (52), Ainsworth (70), Sutton (90pen)
Rangers - 0
Motherwell win 6-1 on aggregate
Referee: C Thomson
It will be Cappielow rather than Celtic Park on the fixture list for the Ibrox club next season as they remain in the Championship. They never looked likely to overturn their first-leg deficit in the Scottish Premiership play-off final and were again soundly beaten by Ian Baraclough’s side who were not at all flattered by the outcome.
Second-half goals by Marvin Johnson, Lionel Ainsworth and John Sutton added to the 3-1 advantage Motherwell carried over from Thursday night.
It was an ignominious finale to a miserable campaign for Rangers, the afternoon ending shamefully for them as substitute Bilel Mohsni kicked and punched Motherwell striker Lee Erwin amid extraordinary scenes at the final whistle.
While the SFA will have to launch an investigation into events which resulted in the unwelcome return of police horses to a Scottish football pitch, Rangers must now hold their own post-mortem on the wretched standard of their playing staff.
The future of interim manager Stuart McCall is first on the agenda and his prospects of securing the post on a longer-term basis appear to have receded significantly.
In his attempt to find a system and combination of personnel capable of retrieving the situation yesterday, McCall deployed what was effectively a 4-2-4 formation whenever Rangers had attacking possession.
Shane Ferguson, impressive on his debut as a late substitute in the first leg, lined up wide on the right with his fellow Newcastle United loanee Haris Vuckic on the left. As he had hinted on Friday, McCall also recalled Kris Boyd to partner Kenny Miller up front.
As they had to, the visitors attempted to take the game to Motherwell from the opening moments and Ferguson did not take long to carve out a first sight of goal for Boyd, his fine cross headed straight at goalkeeper George Long by the striker.
Rangers’ strategy was intended to allow them to launch the ball into the Motherwell penalty area whenever possible. A long throw-in from Lee Wallace caused the next moment of anxiety for the home defence, Ferguson flicking the ball on towards Miller who was denied a shooting opportunity by Steven Hammell’s block.
There was very little aesthetically pleasing about the action, perhaps unsurprising given the levels of tension surrounding the occasion.
Rangers threatened again in the 13th minute, Nicky Law’s free kick from the left picking out Marius Zaliukas. The big defender didn’t connect cleanly with his close-range header but Long still had to move smartly to divert the ball over his crossbar.
There was a necessary level of intensity in Rangers’ approach but young Andy Murdoch was over-zealous with a wild and late challenge on Hammell which was at the very least worth the yellow card it earned from referee Craig Thomson.
Motherwell were rarely seen as an attacking force in the first half-hour but they gradually built up a head of steam in that department.
As at Ibrox, they were most dangerous on the break through the pace of Ainsworth and Johnson on the flanks. It was Ainsworth who created their first opening with a rapid raid down the right, flashing the ball across the six-yard box where Scott McDonald was just unable to make a connection.
It sparked a bright spell for the hosts which might easily have seen them make the breakthrough on the day. Erwin drilled a shot narrowly wide of Cammy Bell’s left-hand post from a difficult angle, then Stephen McManus directed a free header wide of the target after being picked out by an Ainsworth free kick.
There was an increasing sense of desperation about Rangers’ efforts and Vuckic collected a caution for simulation on the edge of the Motherwell penalty area, although he had appeared to be tripped by McManus a few strides earlier.
Lee McCulloch, recalled in central defence to replace the suspended Darren McGregor, was the next Rangers player to be booked and could perhaps count himself fortunate not to see a straight red for a reckless and high challenge on McDonald.
Motherwell came close again three minutes before the interval, Johnson unfortunate to see a sweetly-struck left-foot shot from 20 yards fly narrowly wide of Bell’s left-hand post.
Rangers had lost their earlier impetus but did pass up a premium opportunity a minute later when Ferguson’s corner from the right fell invitingly for Zaliukas who wastefully blazed his shot over from close range.
Boyd headed another decent chance wide from a Vuckic cross in first-half stoppage time and even with another 45 minutes remaining, there was already a sense this was a task well beyond their capabilities.
That certainly became the case when Motherwell tightened their grip on the tie with Johnson’s goal seven minutes into the second half.
Richard Foster, who had been erratic in possession all afternoon, was again guilty of giving the ball away cheaply to allow Johnson to surge towards the edge of the Rangers penalty area. His shot took a wild deflection off Zaliukas but did not look as if it should seriously trouble Bell. But the goalkeeper seemed uncertain whether to punch or catch the ball and lost his footing as he merely helped it into the net.
McCall replaced Ferguson with Tom Walsh, then sent on Nicky Clark for Boyd in a bid to spark what was now the most unlikely of recoveries. They were simply forlorn gestures on a day which had long since slipped beyond his influence.
The Motherwell fans were in raucous mood now and the atmosphere was cranked up another notch when their side made it 2-0 in the 70th minute. The tireless Johnson burst free down the left and cut the ball inside to Ainsworth whose shot from the edge of the penalty area took a wicked deflection off Zaliukas, on this occasion leaving Bell helpless as the ball looped beyond him.
Motherwell wrapped up an outstanding day’s work in stoppage time, John Sutton showing terrific composure from the penalty spot to net the Fir Park side’s third of the afternoon after Erwin had been fouled by Lee Wallace.
Motherwell: Long, Law, Laing, McManus, Hammell; Ainsworth (Sutton 76), Lasley, Pearson (Grant 74), Johnson (Ramsden 84); McDonald, Erwin. Subs not used: Twardzik, Kerr, Moore, Watt.
Rangers: Bell, Foster, McCulloch, Zaliukas (Mohsni 71), Wallace; Law, Vuckic, Murdoch, Ferguson (Walsh 55); Boyd (Clark 59), Miller. Subs not used: Simonsen, Smith, Crawford, Shiels.