A first-half goal from Cyriel Dessers was enough for Rangers to beat Motherwell 1-0, but the visitors didn’t give up their long unbeaten away record without a fight.
Dessers scored against the run of play in the 24th minute when he deflected Rabbi Matondo’s shot past Motherwell goalkeeper Liam Kelly. Rangers had chances to extend their lead, but there were some anxious moments for the home side in the final stages, with Oli Shaw and Blair Spittal in particular coming close.
There were a few boos from Rangers fans after the referee blew the whistle for a 1-0 win, sending Michael Beale’s side into third place ahead of Motherwell, six points behind leaders Celtic.
It was Motherwell’s first Premiership defeat in nine away games since Stuart Kettlewell took charge in February. The victory came at a cost for the Rangers as Matondo left injured in the first half after going down twice with no one near him.
Rangers were also without Tom Lawrence after the attacking midfielder was sent for a scan over the problem that forced him out of Thursday’s Europa League win over Real Betis. Danilo, Nico Raskin, Todd Cantwell and Kieron Dowell were on the sidelines. Lawrence’s absence paved the way for Scott Wright to make his first start under Beale, while Sam Lammers and Dessers returned.
Motherwell had the better start and they had several half chances to take the lead. Harry Paton and Callum Slattery shot narrowly wide and Brodie Spencer forced Jack Butland into a save at the near post.
There was another scare for the home side when Lammers turned a Motherwell free-kick into his own goal, but Connor Goldson beat Bevis Mugabi to the ball and headed for a corner.
The Rangers scored with their first real shot on goal. Matondo had the chance to shoot from 20 yards and Dessers deflected the ball over Liam Kelly’s dive for his third Rangers goal.
Lammers soon had a shot before Matondo eventually went out. The winger was replaced by central defender John Souttar. Abdallah Sima and Kemar Roofe were more natural substitutes on the bench, but both had been rested after their midweek exertions.
Motherwell had claimed a penalty in first-half injury time when James Tavernier held off Spencer as the full-back tried to reach Theo Bair’s shot, but the referee Alan Muir played on and there was no delay as the ball went out of play . Lammers had several chances on either side of the break, twice forcing Kelly into saves and firing a volley wide from a cross from Tavernier.
Spencer was frustrated by another decision from Muir after he was penalized for overtaking Tavernier and scoring a through ball that pushed him past Butland. Kelly fended off Dessers and then Lammers as Rangers went bust, but Motherwell got back into the game after Shaw joined Bair at the top. The two combined to create an excellent chance, but Butland saved well from the substitute.
Beale gave 16-year-old Bailey Rice, a former Motherwell academy player, his home debut in midfield in the 78th minute. Motherwell went even closer when Spittal played a one-two with Slattery and beat Butland, but Tavernier cleared off the line.
The guests had more chances. Shaw’s volley was deflected and Goldson cleared off Spittal’s line, although the flag went up afterwards forcing two saves from substitute Conor Wilkinson.