Rangers kept the pressure on Scottish Premier League leaders Celtic as Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic scored a hat-trick as the Gers routed Motherwell 6-0 at Ibrox today.
Steven Naismith got the deluge underway in the fifth minute before Jelavic scored twice in three minutes just after the half-hour mark to give Rangers a 3-0 half-time lead.
The second-half was a tighter affair until an own goal from Shaun Hutchison in the 76th minute sparked a seven minute goal-fest with Jelavic completing his hat-trick before David Healy slotted home on his Rangers debut. The win puts Rangers, who have a game in hand, two points behind rivals Celtic, who play Dundee United at Tannadice tomorrow.
Walter Smith was delighted with his side's afternoon's work. "We have had spells in games recently there where we have had good first-half performances not so good second-half and the opposite way around," the Rangers boss said. "However I thought we played very well over the whole 90 minutes today and delighted to get that kind of win."
At Ibrox, on-loan Arsenal star Kyle Bartley made his debut and Vladimir Weiss returned to the starting line-up as Kyle Lafferty and Maurice Edu dropped to the bench. Rangers were dangerous from the start and should have had the lead after just 90 seconds.
An inch-perfect pass from Weiss sent El-Hadji Diouf clean through but the Senegalese striker poked the ball wide past the out-rushing Darren Randolph. Bartley headed just wide from a Diouf corner before Naismith put Rangers ahead in the fifth minute. Weiss played a great one-two with Jelavic before beating his man on the left-wing and sending in a low cross to the six-yard box where Naismith slid in for his tenth of the season.
Motherwell threatened on the half-hour mark when Tom Hately's free-kick went right across goal to Stephen Jones who slammed a half-volley into the side netting and then John Sutton headed just over from Gavin Gunning's cross.
But after weathering the storm it was Rangers who added to their lead through Jelavic. Bartley's quick thinking released Steven Whittaker whose cross found the Croatian striker unmarked 12 yards out to slam home past Randolph in the 34th minute.
It took just over two minutes for Jelavic to grad a second. Stephen Craigan was booked for crudely ending Bartley's surging forward foray and Weiss dinked the quickly-taken free-kick into the six-yard box for Jelavic to send a neat flick high past the despairing goalkeeper. A positive half had a disappointing end for Rangers when scorer Naismith limped off to be replaced by John Fleck.
Motherwell brought on Ross Forbes for Jonathan Page and he also scored immediately with a rasping shot from range which Allan McGregor superbly tipped over. Healy came off the bench to make his Rangers debut but it was fellow Northern Ireland international Steven Davis who came closest to adding a fourth when his back-heel from Whittaker's cross was deflected for a corner.
Rangers made it 4-0 in the 76th minute. A surging run and pass from Davis found Fleck whose cross was turned into his own net by Hutchison. Jelavic had his hat-trick three minutes later. David Weir's ball into the box was headed on by Sasa Papac to Jelavic and his low shot squirmed under Randolph's body and in.
There was still time left for Healy to grab a debut goal in the 83rd minute. Madjid Bougherra cut the ball back for the Northern Ireland striker to slot through the legs of Randolph from close range to boost Rangers goal difference.
Stuart McCall said he always knew it was going to be a tough game. '"I felt after going one-nil down in the first ten minutes we weren't at the races but thereafter I think they scored in our best spell of the game," the Motherwell manager said. "It was hugely disappointing but today they were on top of their game and we weren't."