The combustible Colombian collected five red cards last season but had appeared to have matured this term. However, he lost his discipline at Fir Park and could have had no complaints about his involvement being curtailed midway through the second half. He will automatically be suspended for the match against Hibs at Easter Road on Friday evening.
Fortunately for him, his red mist did not inconvenience his team-mates; Motherwell faded after a bright start and turned in a feeble performance, forcing only one save of note from Allan McGregor.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard had, surprisingly, elected to go again with the same starting XI which had secured the point they required to reach the round of 32 in the Europa League in their mentally and physically draining final group match against Young Boys Berne at Ibrox on Thursday
They began sluggishly and the hosts created the first clear-cut opening of the contest after 10 minutes when Chris Long’s pace allowed him to outpace Connor Goldson and reach Devante Cole’s flick-on ahead of McGregor. Long took the ball round the goalkeeper and cut it back for Cole but James Tavernier got back to clear, with referee Don Robertson dismissing claims from Cole that he had been impeded.
Rangers had a claim of their own rejected when Joe Aribo’s header from Borna Barisic’s outswinging corner struck Jake Carroll’s arm, which was not in an unnatural position.
Glenn Kamara then had a clear sight of goal in the 18th minute but the Finnish international lacked composure and snatched at the opportunity, shanking his shot from from the edge of the penalty area a couple of yards over the crossbar.
Rangers were in the ascendancy at that stage and Mark Gillespie was at full stretch twice inside a minute to deny Morelos. However, from the corner resulting from the second of those stops in the 27th minute, Nikola Katic escaped the attentions of Bevis Mugabi and stooped to power in a header from another Barisic corner which entered the net via the inside of the goalkeeper’s right-hand post.
The goal had been coming and Motherwell struggled to conjure up a meaningful response; indeed, they found it difficult just to retain possession, rushing their passes and frequently sending the ball out of play as a result.
Gillespie, the home side’s most impressive performer, once again kept out a low netbound drive from Morelos after the Colombian had been set up by Barisic.
Liam Donnelly’s frustration was all too evident when he collected the first caution of the afternoon for a wild, late lunge on Morelos two minutes from the interval.
A spat between Morelos and Declan Gallagher on the stroke of half-time provoked a melee as the teams made for the tunnel, with McGregor and Donnelly also becoming involved in the resulting melee. Gallagher and Ryan Jack (sent off against Young Boys Berne on Thursday) were subsequently booked for their parts in it.
Gillespie excelled himself yet again three minutes into the second period when he raced from his line to smother another low, hard drive from Morelos after the striker had latched on to Barisic’s quickly-taken chipped free-kick. His 27 goals for the campaign thus far is an impressive haul but one wonders how many more he might have had if he produced a greater variety of finishes.
Ryan Kent was the next visiting player to cure the goalkeeper’s reflexes when he threw himself to his left to push away the winger’s venomous drive. Meanwhile, Morelos, who had committed several fouls previously, was shown a yellow card for going in late on Jake Carroll.
McGregor was finally called into action in the 65th minute and, as usual, he did not let the side down, spreading himself to keep out a Long’s header from point-blank range.
The Steelmen had switched to three up front in an attempt to find a way back into the game only for Morelos to simultaneously stretch Rangers’ lead and throw the home side a lifeline.
He had his back to goal when Aribo’s cutback found him 12 yards out but he rolled Gallagher and beat Gillespie with another low shot. However, he made an inflammatory gesture to the section of the ground containing the Motherwell Ultras. A cup of Bovril was subsequently thrown on to the pitch and Morelos was shown a second yellow card for his foolishness.
Tavernier also had his name taken for a cynical foul on Sherwyn Seedorf but, even with a numerical advantage, Motherwell did not look capable of unlocking the Rangers defence.
Indeed, Barisic was the width of a post away from making it 3-0 with a free-kick in stoppage time and a third goal would not have flattered Gerrard’s men.
Motherwell needed to win to regain third place from Aberdeen, who overtook them with Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Hamilton but once Rangers had their noses in front they never looked like being caught.