MOTHERWELL manager Ian Baraclough has hailed his players for their composure and belief after they claimed a convincing 3-1 first-leg advantage over Rangers in the Premiership play-off final.
Baraclough’s side earned their club’s first win at Ibrox since 1997 to leave Rangers’ interim manager Stuart McCall bemoaning what he felt was his team’s least effective performance since he took the job in March.
Goals from Lee Erwin and Stephen McManus gave Motherwell a 2-0 half-time lead and the visitors tightened their grip on the tie when Lionel Ainsworth added a third just two minutes after the break. But Darren McGregor’s 82nd-minute reply for Rangers restored an element of uncertainty to the final outcome. In last year’s play-off final Hibs eventually lost out to Hamilton despite earning a 2-0 first-leg lead away from home, so there is at least some basis for McCall to believe Rangers may yet overturn the deficit and return to the top flight.
But it is Motherwell who are firmly in pole position to win the tie and Baraclough expressed his pride in his players.
“To a man, we were fantastic,” said Baraclough. “We came with a game plan. We worked on the shape and on drawing Rangers in, because we knew we could counter at pace. We did that fantastically well.
“We could have scored one or two more as well, if we’d picked the right pass, but I can’t fault them when they’ve scored three goals away from home.
“They dealt with the crowd and with the magnitude of the situation. We were fantastically calm when Rangers put the pressure on with balls into our box.
“We defended very well and when the keeper was needed, he produced one or two top-class saves.
“We will have to wait and see if 3-1 is enough. We wanted to go back to Fir Park with some sort of result. To have a two-goal lead is great but we now have to work even harder than we did tonight to make sure we get over the line.
“It’s not going to be easy. No-one in our dressing room is kidding themselves, none of them are celebrating tonight. All the cliches are true – it’s just half-time.
“We knew we would have chances and it was just whether we would take those chances. It doesn’t surprise me, because we’ve got good players. When they all go and put it together, they can produce a performance like that.
“We had one or two chances to add to it but Rangers had chances, too. So we know there are certain areas we can tighten up on and we need to do that for the weekend.
“It’s definitely not over, we know that. We know they are a threat, they put a lot of balls into the box and we managed to deal with them. We will have to go and deal with them again. We have to make sure we freshen up and make sure we are right and again ready to put a performance in full of spirit and fight.”
McCall struggled to hide his dismay after the match but insists his team will “have a real go” in Sunday’s second leg.
He said: “That’s as poor as we’ve been in possession of the ball since I’ve been at the club. That’s frustrating.
“Take nothing away from Motherwell. They hit us on the break well and played well. If they’d played like that for most of the season, they wouldn’t have been second bottom of the Premiership, that’s for sure. They showed what a good side they can be on the counter attack with pace.
“I can’t criticise the players since I’ve been here. They’ve done well in the majority of the games but tonight too many of us had off nights. Motherwell fully capitalised on that.
“Darren’s goal gives us a lifeline. Motherwell are clear favourites now and rightly so but we will look at the Hibs-Hamilton scenario last season. It goes without saying the first goal on Sunday will be crucial and we’ve got to aim to get it. What we have to do now is have a real go on Sunday.”