On the surface, a nod to old times as Rangers snatched a 91st-minute winner through the redoubtable Kenny Miller to move above Celtic at the top of the table. Scratch below the surface, and problems with the promoted Ibrox side’s Premiership assimilation patently remain.
An industrious and impressively drilled Motherwell had the measure of their hosts for long spells, with only a full-length leap from Wes Foderingham midway through the second period preventing Scott McDonald adding to his early tap-in for a 2-0 scoreline. “If that had gone in, different game,” said the striker who turns 33 today.
The Australian capitalised after a Marvin Johnson cross from the left spun his way off Rob Kiernan to turn the ball into an empty net from two yards after only 19 minutes.
It seemed a moment that Mark Warburton’s side might not recover from as they struggled to break down their opponents. They did only after Niko Kranjcar had been introduced early in the second period. It was his 64th-minute chip to send Miller away for a drive on goal that forced a block from Craig Samson that Harry Forrester drove in on the follow-up.
And the Croatian provided the cutback from which substitute Michael O’Halloran had an effort blocked to allow Miller to slam in.
McDonald also felt he played an unwelcome part in the denouement too. “You come to these places and the game’s not over till it’s over, that’s what makes the Old Firm so good,” he said. “It was probably my responsibility in terms of not clearing my lines. I never want to give a ball away. But at certain moments you have to clear your lines. It didn’t happen and they keep the pressure on and got another chance to score. I apologised after it. I feel that way. Everyone feels responsible in there as well.”
McDonald accepted the comparison challenge, with Motherwell having been blitzed 5-0 at Celtic Park a week and a half before yesterday’s narrow loss on the other side of Glasgow. “They are both very good teams but they have different styles and sometimes a team like ourselves will suit playing against a certain side,” he said. “Now on the basis of the two games we have played against them we did better today against Rangers probably because, if you ask Mark Warburton, they didn’t pass it quick enough to penetrate us.
“We could shuffle across and do it comfortably whereas Celtic were more penetrative in the way they played, and with their pace as well that gives you all sorts of massive problems at the moment. They are firing on all cylinders whereas, if you asked Rangers at the moment, they would probably say they are still trying to find their feet.”
Warburton did not deny that his team toiled in the opening period. After such a fanfare, summer signing Joey Barton looks as if he is still pushing to pick up the pace. Rangers did step it up, though, and their domination of possession eventually did wear Motherwell down. “They were very strong defensively and we never got in behind them,” said the Ibrox manager.
“We didn’t earn anything first half, we conceded a poor goal with a loose pass and tackle. Not acceptable from our point of view. Second half much better, different tempo to the game, we were able to get behind them and deliver quality ball in and we did.”
His Fir Park counterpart Mark McGhee, meanwhile, came over all Neville Chamberlain in waving his notebook to declare all was at ease in his world – despite the defeat.
“The most important thing which is written in the biggest writing is ‘performance’. There it is, and we got that today. [The result wasn’t hard to take] it’s easy to take. If you play poorly you go away and you don’t talk, you can’t look each other in the eye, we are all down and wondering what we do next, while scratching our heads. Instead of that we have a lot to work on and be positive about.
“They can hold their heads up high and I thought their performance was superb. Our tactics were right and we stopped them doing the thing they like to do with the wingers coming inside and full-backs overlapping. I thought it was very good in our respect. We run out of energy and lost the game.”