End of Rangers' winning run in Motherwell is only a minor setback for Steven Gerrard - thanks to Celtic
But in a contest for the Premiership crown which was long ago stripped of any suspense by the consistency of Steven Gerrard’s side, the 1-1 draw against a battling Motherwell outfit at Fir Park is the most minor of setbacks for the Rangers manager.
His team missed out on equalling the post-war club record for consecutive top flight league wins, the 16 achieved under Jock Wallace back in 1972-73. But they remain unbeaten in the Premiership this season and enjoy a colossal 21-point lead at the top of the table over a Celtic side who, even with three games in hand, appear incapable of causing them any anxiety in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
That said, Gerrard will be looking for an improvement in his team’s general performance levels as he bids to successfully conclude a campaign in which they carry Europa League and Scottish Cup ambitions along with the pursuit of that cherished 55th league title.
A scrappy first half performance saw them trail to a Devante Cole goal for a Motherwell side who picked up another precious point under new manager Graham Alexander.
Rangers were rewarded for an improved second half display when Cedric Itten continued his habit of scoring against Motherwell, the Swiss international striker stepping off the bench to score his fourth goal in three appearances against the Fir Park side.
Rangers have by far the most miserly defence in the Premiership but Motherwell have proved more adept than any other side in finding ways to breach it.
Having scored in both of the previous fixtures between the teams this season, albeit losing them 5-1 and 3-1, they made it a hat-trick here to give Gerrard and his players plenty to ponder.
Cole’s 21st minute breakthrough was fully merited for the hosts whose progressive approach, matching up to the league leaders’ 4-3-3 set-up, was in the sharpest possible contrast to the ultra-cautious 5-5-0 system they deployed at Ibrox in December.
Allan Campbell, whose industry in midfield was key to Motherwell’s efforts to shut down Rangers’ attacking creativity at source, set the tone for the hosts with a shot which, although comfortably saved by Allan McGregor, was a signal of intent from Alexander’s team.
Liam Kelly would have expected to be far busier against his former club, although the on-loan QPR goalkeeper was grateful to Bevis Mugabi for denying Glen Kamara a shot at goal on one of the rare occasions Rangers displayed any incisiveness in or around the Motherwell penalty area in the first half.
The visitors were caught flat-footed at the back when Tony Watt and Liam Polworth combined for the opener. When Watt drilled over a low cross, Cole displayed predatory instincts worthy of his father, former Manchester United and England striker Andrew, as he nipped in between Leon Balogun and Joe Aribo to prod home from close range.
Alfredo Morelos was unlucky not to deliver a rapid response for Rangers when his flicked header from a Borna Barisic cross drifted narrowly wide of the beaten Kelly’s left hand post.
But Gerrard’s men struggled to gather any sustained attacking momentum. Steven Davis, on his 300th appearance, constantly looked to lift the tempo and, after his delightful pass found Kamara in space on the right, Kelly did well to clutch the midfielder’s cross ahead of Ianis Hagi.
Rangers continued to lack conviction in the final third of the pitch in the early stages of the second half, the best they could offer being a shot from Ryan Kent which was safely gathered by Kelly.
Hagi was among those finding it hard to exert any influence on proceedings and his number was up after 54 minutes, making way for Itten as Gerrard made his first change of the afternoon.
As Rangers looked to inject greater urgency into their play, Cole was Motherwell’s hero again - this time in a defensive role as he cleared off the line after Connor Goldson met a Barisic corner with a firm header.
The hosts were gradually forced into a defensive shell more reminiscent of the approach they had taken when trying to defend their lead at Ibrox last month. With Rangers now camped around their penalty area, the pressure intensified and Polworth did well to scramble the ball to safety just before Morelos could pounce on a loose ball after Kelly had unconvincingly parried a shot from Goldson.
Rangers’ delivery from wide areas had not been up to what has been their accustomed standard for most of the season but Barisic produced one straight out of the top drawer for the equaliser. The left-back’s cross had pace and precision, finding Itten at the far post where he gave Kelly no chance with a powerful header.
Motherwell hung on grimly as Rangers pushed hard for a winner. Jermain Defoe came closest to claiming one, the veteran striker almost marking his late entry as a replacement for Morelos with a trademark goal but after a neat turn inside the box his shot was well saved by Kelly.
Motherwell (4-3-3): Kelly, O’Donnell, Gallagher, Mugabi, Carroll; Campbell, Crawford (Maguire 84), Polworth (Lamie 80); Seedorf (MacIver 70), Cole, Watt (Lawless 70). Subs not used: McGinley, White, Morrison, Devine, Johnston.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic; Aribo, Davis, Kamara; Hagi (Itten 54), Morelos (Defoe 83), Kent (Barker 88). Subs not used: Bassey, Helander, Zungu, Patterson, Stewart, McLaughlin.
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