For the first time in seven years, Rangers made a winning start to a top flight league campaign as Graham Dorrans enjoyed the debut of his dreams for the Ibrox club.
No-one will suddenly be rushing to proclaim Pedro Caixinha’s side as genuine title contenders on the basis of this energetic, committed but still flawed performance against a Motherwell team who squandered a host of chances to take something from the contest.
But on a day when only the result really mattered for Rangers as they seek redemption from their summer Europa League humiliation, there was enough on show to provide their support with some encouragement for the weeks and months ahead.
Dorrans was the headline act in that regard, the chants of ‘He’s one of our own’ from the away fans ringing around Fir Park as the Scotland midfielder capped a fine individual display with both of Rangers’ goals either side of Ben Heneghan’s equaliser.
No Premiership manager is in greater need of a good start to the campaign than Caixinha and he could not have wished for a more rewarding opening to this hugely engrossing match.
Rangers were good value for the fourth-minute lead provided by Dorrans and should have put themselves in a more commanding position during a vibrant first quarter of an hour.
The breakthrough strike was the sweetest of moments for Dorrans, a boyhood Rangers fan, in his first competitive outing for the club. It was sourced from a free-kick on the right, conceded by Charles Dunne’s clumsy challenge on Kenny Miller.
Daniel Candeias’ delivery broke to Bruno Alves who knocked the ball back across the penalty area. Miller helped it back towards Dorrans whose low shot found its way into the net despite Heneghan’s desperate attempt to clear on the line. Rangers should have doubled their lead three minutes later when a superb pass from Dorrans sent Josh Windass free on the left but he badly overhit his cross which was intended for the unmarked Candeias in the six-yard box.
Despite having four Betfred Cup fixtures under their belts, Motherwell were slower to get to the pace of the action than the visitors. They gradually began to secure a bigger share of possession and missed a glorious chance to level in the 18th minute.
Carl McHugh sent Chris Cadden clear on the right and his fine cross found Louis Moult at the back post, only for last season’s leading marksman to blaze his volley over from close range.
The action was unrelenting at this stage and Windass came close to scoring a remarkable individual goal two minutes later. Receiving the ball in his own half, he embarked on a weaving run down the left which took him past three opponents before he cut inside and curled a shot against the outside of Trevor Carson’s left hand post.
Motherwell began to enjoy a more progressive spell of play but were let down by a series of poor crosses from promising positions. It was Rangers on the back foot now and there was a let-off for the visitors when Cadden was unable to make a clean connection with Andy Rose’s low cross from the left.
The home side’s increasing levels of intensity were rewarded five minutes before the interval when they made it 1-1. Alves was penalised for a foul on Moult, with the free-kick worked short by Richard Tait to Craig Tanner on the right. His cross caused all manner of uncertainty in the Rangers defence as Heneghan pounced to force the ball home from close range.
Rangers almost reclaimed the lead immediately when a shot from Windass was deflected onto the bar off Tait, but Motherwell deserved to be level at half-time on the basis of their recovery from such a weak start.
Caixinha’s men looked to reimpose themselves as an attacking force at the start of the second half and Miller should have done better than scuff a shot over from around eight yards after excellent set-up work from Candeias.
Rangers were forcing the issue again and got their reward from the penalty spot in the 58th minute. Motherwell were unable to clear a corner properly and when the ball came back into the box, Moult flattened Fabio Cardoso with a stray elbow towards the neck of the Portuguese defender.
Dorrans assumed responsibility from the spot and made no mistake, despite Carson diving the right way.
Herrera almost gave Rangers some breathing space when he flicked a clever header narrowly wide.
Motherwell’s race certainly wasn’t run just yet and substitute Ryan Bowman came agonisingly close to restoring parity when he diverted Cadden’s cross against the right hand post of a static Wes Foderingham.
Caixinha looked to close out the game by switching to five at the back for the closing stages, introducing Danny Wilson in place of Miller. But there was a nervy end to the match for his side who were fortunate not to concede a second equaliser when hesitant defending presented Alex Fisher with a chance that Foderingham scrambled wide more by luck than judgment.