Cedric Itten came off the bench to score his fourth goal against Motherwell as Rangers dropped points for only the third time this season with a 1-1 draw at Fir Park.
The big Swiss scored his first goal for club earlier in the season at the same ground, and he also bagged a vital goal in the 3-1 win against the Lanarkshire side at Ibrox last month – and it took the big striker to come off the bench again to get Rangers a vital goal which ensured Rangers maintained their points advantage at the top of the table.
Rangers went into the game looking for their sixteenth consecutive win in the league against a Motherwell side without a win in eleven. However the Fir Park side had looked rejuvenated against St Mirren last week after the appointment of Graham Alexander, and Steven Gerrard had warned against complacency at his press conference on Friday.
Gerrard named an unchanged eleven from the side which started at Pittodrie last week, meaning Steven Davis made his 300th appearance for Rangers as they looked to extend their lead to 23 points after Celtic dropped points against Livingston on Saturday.
Rangers started very sluggishly and it was the home side who looked the more likely in the early stages, and they were rewarded in the 20th minute with a goal from Devante Cole.
It was Cole who started the move from a throw-in, protecting the ball well and playing it out wide. Motherwell worked it well from there, allowing Tony Watt to send the ball across the face of the goal for Cole to slide in and tap it in.
Rangers reacted well in terms of dominating possession, but struggled to break down a stubborn Motherwell defence.
The only chance of note came from an Alfredo Morelos header, the Columbian rising well to get on the end of a great Borna Barisic cross and send the ball inches past Liam Kelly’s left-hand post.
Into the second-half and Rangers started brightly with Hagi shooting wide seconds after the restart.
Hagi was again involved when he sent over a great cross which Ryan Kent sheepishly headed wide when he should have done a lot better. It was another frustrating performance from the Englishman who has struggled with form of late.
Kent had another opportunity a few minutes later when he cut inside and shot from the corner of the box, but hit it straight at Kelly.
With Rangers dominating possession but struggling to create outright chances, Steven Gerrard turned to the man who had punished Motherwell in the previous two meetings and introduced Itten for Ianis Hagi on 54 minutes. The substitution inspired Rangers to their best chance of the match.
Connor Goldson got on the end of Barisic corner to head brilliantly past Kelly, only to see it cleared off the line by Devante Cole. From the clearance Rangers worked it well again, and Tavernier put in a great ball which fell to Joe Aribo who fired it over the bar when it seemed easier to score.
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It was now one way traffic, with Rangers hemming Motherwell into their own half. Tavernier headed a ball over Liam Kelly but no Rangers player was in sight to tap it in to the empty net as it bounced across the face of goal.
Then came the equaliser from Itten. Rangers worked it well on the left-hand side, allowing Barisic to send in a great cross which the big striker headed past Kelly to give Rangers a deserved leveller.
In the closing stages Gerrard introduced Defoe and Barker for Alfredo Morelos and Ryan Kent as he looked for the winner which would extend Rangers’ lead.
And it was Defoe who nearly, and arguably should have given Rangers a deserved win in the 92nd minute. Goldson sent the ball wide to Tavernier, who sent in a great cross. Defoe brought it down superbly well with a deft touch which set him up to turn superbly and get his shot away, only to hit it straight at Kelly. It would be Rangers’ last opportunity and they had to settle for a point.
The result meant Steven Gerrard failed to equal Jock Wallace’s record of sixteen successive wins, and the Rangers manager couldn’t hide his disappointment at failing to extend the lead over Celtic further.
“I don’t think we’ve got any complaints in terms of the result”, he said. “I think it took us 45 minutes to come to the game.
“I’m disappointed with our showing in the first-half. I had to get into them a little bit at half-time, and I thought we were really good in the second-half. Over the course of the 90 minutes we probably deserved to win it on chances on our second-half showing. But the reality is we can’t come to a game at half-time when we are where we are.
“There are two things as a manager you don’t want your team to do: you don’t want to start a game late, and you can’t leave games early – especially with what we’re playing for.
“Hopefully this will be a valuable point come the end of the season”.
MOTHERWELL: Kelly; O'Donnell, Gallagher, Mugabi, Carroll; Polworth, Crawford, Campbell, Seedorf; Cole, Watt
SUBS: Morrison, Lamie, McGinley, White, Lawless, Maguire, Devine, McIver, Johnston
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic, Kamara, Davis, Aribo. Kent, Hagi, Morelos.
SUBS: McLaughlin, Bassey, Helander, Defoe, Itten, Zungu, Patterson, Barker, Stewart.
REFEREE: Don Robertson
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