As Rangers set themselves out for the second half of this closely fought draw, those in the home support who’d grown tired of Mark Warburton’s constant insistence that the Ibrox side “need to do plan A better” must have thought they’d received more than they’d bargained for in new boss Pedro Caixinha.
Trailing 1-0 at the interval, the new head coach made three changes, all of which involved hauling off a member of the back four, as Rangers switched from a narrow 4-4-1-1 to a wild 3-1-4-2, which included midfielders Jon Toral and Andy Halliday as part of the defensive three. However, it seems it would be too soon to paint Caixinha as some mad tactician, for all three of his half-time substitutions turned out to be enforced. Full-backs Lee Wallace and Lee Hodson were struggling with illness, while Clint Hill picked up a hamstring strain.
“We were thinking of making one change at half-time,” said Caixinha. “But the circumstances when we got in at half-time dictated all the changes we had to make. Even playing out of position they tried to do their best. The team is getting the spirit that we want.
“They did a fantastic job and we could, with a little luck, have had a different result.”
Regardless of Caixinha’s motivation, it completely transformed the match.
The first half was a tense affair where Motherwell frustrated the hosts and deservedly led through one of only two clear-cut chances created in the 45 minutes. The second period was football’s equivalent of a Rocky movie: all attack, no defence. It was just two sides trading blows. A combination of Rangers’ change and Motherwell missing players through injury meant there were only three natural defenders on the pitch from half-time onward, so perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising. In the end it was the play of both goalkeepers which stopped the final score from hitting double digits.
Motherwell had clearly learned from the Ibrox humbling of their Lanarkshire rivals Hamilton two weeks prior. Though they lined up in a back-three system similar to the one Rangers torched so successfully a fortnight ago, they made a couple of key alterations. Rather than giving the Rangers full-backs freedom to push right up, the wide forwards in the visitors’ 3-4-3 formation, Louis Moult and Ryan Bowman, would drop back to cover the wings when Motherwell lost possession.
It wasn’t quite man-marking duty, but it was enough for the away side to fill the gaps in defence, while retaining an attacking menace. The front three, with Scott McDonald in the centre, looked to stay forward whenever possible and put pressure on the home defence.
Their gameplan was helped by Moult’s opener inside three minutes. The striker was left completely free at the back post to head home Chris Cadden’s corner.
Aside from a Martyn Waghorn effort, which the striker fired wide through a crowded penalty area, Rangers barely created an opportunity in that first period. Then came the triple change.
Chances soon came thick and fast. Rob Kiernan threatened from a corner, then Carl McHugh did likewise at the other end. Joe Garner had a header cleared off the line, before the substitute saw a similar effort denied by Craig Samson. Motherwell then wasted a five-on-three opportunity, with Keith Lasley firing over. This all occurred in the 15 minutes between the half-time break and Joe Garner’s equaliser. The striker flicked his close-range finish past Samson after a terrific deep cross from Kenny Miller.
Two minutes later Motherwell looked to have pushed themselves back in front. Bowman’s shot was saved before Moult followed up the rebound. The striker later insisted his shot was heading in anyway before it deflected off Stephen Pearson on its way to finding the net. The midfielder was standing in an offside position and after a brief delay the goal was chopped off.
Wes Foderingham then made terrific stops from Bowman and a double save from McDonald to keep the scores level. While, at the other end, Samson saved well from Garner, before Emerson Hyndman wasted a glorious chance to win it, skying an injury-time effort high and wide.