Danny Wilson continued his renaissance as a Rangers player of genuine influence in the post-Pedro Caixinha era as he celebrated his 26th birthday with the goal that helped earn his side a desperately needed boost ahead of Saturday’s Old Firm assignment at Celtic Park.
Having been restored to the first-team picture by new boss Graeme Murty since Caixinha’s dismissal, the defender has now scored three times in his last six appearances.
Wilson’s contribution was crucial last night, breaking the deadlock against a stuffy Motherwell outfit in a match where Rangers were toiling to shake themselves from the lethargy that had seen them slump to defeats against St Johnstone and Kilmarnock in their two previous outings.
Alfredo Morelos made sure of all three points for Murty’s side on a bitterly cold evening when the result was far more important than the performance.
Neither side came into the match on the back of anything resembling optimum form but the visitors squandered a glorious chance to put a significant dent in the already fragile confidence of the Rangers players inside the opening 40 seconds.
Hesitancy in the home defence allowed Alex Fisher to beat Bruno Alves and flick the ball into the path of Craig Tanner, who outmuscled Wilson inside the penalty area but could only send his shot straight at Wes Foderingham.
Niko Kranjcar, making his first starting appearance for Rangers since early September, attempted to rouse his side from their uncertain start. The playmaker created their first opening with a well weighted through ball to pick out James Tavernier’s run and the right-back drove a shot just over.
Tavernier then returned the favour with a lofted pass which Kranjcar controlled on his chest before attempting a shot which Motherwell keeper Trevor Carson blocked. The ball broke to Morelos but the Colombian striker lacked composure as he slashed a shot wildly off target. Motherwell suffered a setback when their captain Carl McHugh had to leave the action with a head knock after just 20 minutes, the combative midfielder replaced by Allan Campbell.
It was pretty turgid fare for the most part, Kranjcar continuing to provide rare moments of technical quality without ever putting the visiting defence under real pressure. Eduardo Herrera, making only his second starting appearance for Rangers as he deputised for the suspended Josh Windass, struggled to impose himself on the contest.
The Mexican’s lack of pace was too often exposed, although he did manage to get on the end of a dangerous Kranjcar cross which he headed just over. Rangers sustained an injury blow just before the interval when Ryan Jack went down under a late challenge from Cedric Kipre which went unpunished by referee John Beaton. After lengthy treatment, a clearly distressed Jack was carried off on a stretcher and replaced by teenager Jamie Barjonas.
Kipre did not stay out of Beaton’s notebook for much longer, earning a booking a couple of minutes later for a high boot in the face of Herrera.
A fractious and fragmented first half ended with Tanner missing another inviting opportunity to put Motherwell in front, this time dragging a left-foot shot wide of the post after being played in by Richard Tait. Kranjcar skied an ambitious effort way off target at the start of the second half as Rangers tried to increase the tempo. When they made their 56th minute breakthrough, it came from a corner needlessly conceded by Carson.
The Motherwell keeper decided he needed to get a touch on a shot from Morelos which was already drifting wide of his left-hand post. Kranjcar’s set piece was not adequately cleared by the visitors’ defence, the ball knocked back into the area by Barjonas. Alves collected it and laid it off into the path of Wilson, who steadied himself before rifling a superb left-foot shot high into the net from a difficult angle on the left of the box.
Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson responded by replacing midfielder Andy Rose with forward Ryan Bowman, the substitute receiving a hostile reception from the Rangers support who have not yet forgotten the broken nose he inflicted upon Fabio Cardoso during the Betfred Cup semi-final between the teams earlier this season.
Fisher came close to an equaliser when he met Tanner’s cross with a diving header which flew narrowly wide but Motherwell’s hopes of taking something from their evening’s work were effectively killed off when Morelos made it 2-0 with 14 minutes remaining. Wilson’s long through ball saw the Motherwell defence appealing in vain for an offside decision as Morelos latched on to it and drove home his 13th goal of the season.
RANGERS: Foderingham, Tavernier, Alves, Wilson, John; McCrorie, Jack (Barjonas 41), Holt, Kranjcar (Pena 84); Morelos (Hardie 84), Herrera: Subs not used: Kelly, Hodson, Bates, Candeias.
MOTHERWELL: Carson, Tait, Kipre, Hartley, Dunne; Tanner, McHugh (Campbell 20), Bigirimana, Grimshaw, Rose (Bowman 62); Fisher (Newell 78). Subs not used: Xenodochov, Hammell, MacLean, Turnbull.
Referee: John Beaton. Attendance: 49,273