Rangers extended their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to four points with a comprehensive 5-0 win away to Motherwell today that also reduced significantly bitter rivals Celtic's goal difference advantage.
Motherwell had a decent penalty claim turned down before Kyle Lafferty opened the scoring in the 18th minute, but, Rangers had to wait till the second-half to seal their victory when the Scottish Cup finalists collapsed.
Steven Davis doubled the lead in the 51st minute before Nikica Jelavic and two stunning strikes from Steven Naismith cut Celtic's goal difference advantage to three. Celtic, who have played two games less than Rangers, have the chance to cut the gap at the top when they face Dundee United at Parkhead tomorrow.
Rangers manager Walter Smith said that he had been concerned by the first-half display. "We struggled at times in the first-half to get to grips with the game but in the second-half we played a lot better and obviously scored a few more goals," he said. "If the goal difference comes into being then it comes into being but you have to win the games to make that happen."
His opposing counterpart Stuart McCall said he felt like a different Motherwell side had turned up for the second-half. "In fairness Rangers were clinical and some of their goals were outstanding but that doesn't take away from our second-half perfomance," he said. "I'm really disappointed and embarrassed by the second-half."
Rangers did all the early pressing with the first chance falling to Maurice Edu in the box but Gavin Gunning made a vital block. Motherwell had a decent shout for a penalty turned down when Keith Lasley was fouled by Madjid Bougherra however referee Mike Tumilty adjudged he had been brought down inches outside the box.
Irish combine for opener
Lafferty was booked for clattering into a late challenge with Gunning before the Northern Irishman gave Rangers the lead in the 18th minute. International teammate Davis' pass was knocked into Lafferty's path by Gunning and he rounded Darren Randolph before firing the ball off Stevie Hammell on the line and in.
Motherwell looked to hit back immediately but Allan McGregor produced a magnificent save to stop Steve Jones' deflected shot creeping into the top corner. The 'keeper came to the rescue again in the 38th minute when Francis Jeffers beat the offside trap but McGregor made a vital interception when the former Rangers player tried to unselfishly pick out strike partner John Sutton with a pass.
Davis, though, struck to dampen hopes of a Motherwell comeback. Gregg Wylde sent Naismith racing away with a fine pass and his shot was blocked by the legs of Randolph but the rebound fell for Davis who drilled his effort into the net from ten yards. Jelavic grabbed his 13th league goal of the season in the 65th minute when he rose highest at the far post to head Sasa Papac's cross past Randolph.
Rangers looked dangerous going forward and added a fourth in the 76th minute when Naismith played a one-two with Wylde before unleashing a powerful strike that rifled past Randolph from 20 yards for his side's 100th competitive goal of the campaign.
The Rangers striker then added another in stoppage time with a sensational strike that flew into the top corner after being teed up by sub El-Hadji Diouf.