A last-gasp Lee McCulloch winner secured a 2-1 win for Rangers at Motherwell today as the embattled champions took another step towards securing second place in the Scottish Premier League. The result reduced the gap with league leaders Celtic, who play St Johnstone tomorrow, to 15 points - following Rangers recently entering administration - and means the Hoops can not clinch the title this weekend.
With £800,000 in prize money separating second and third place in the SPL, both teams were desperate to claim victory at Fir Park. In a frantic start Motherwell claimed a sixth-minute lead after Chris Humphrey set up Henrik Ojamaa to slide home the opener, before a sensational 25-yard strike from Steven Whittaker allowed Rangers to level three minutes later.
As the match headed for a stalemate McCulloch popped up in the 89th minute to poke home the ball from a couple of yards to claim the win and delay Celtic's title celebrations. Rangers manager Ally McCoist said he was thrilled with result.
"I thought it was a really hard earned three points. Motherwell were very good and we knew they would give us a tough game," McCoist said. "We got a good reaction from the lads in the second half and I was really pleased to see the winning goal go in from McCulloch."
Stuart McCall was disappointed to lose a late goal. "We didn't deserve to lose the game and we've not got what we deserved today," the Motherwell manager said. "I think a draw would have been a fair result but I'm absolutely gutted to lose the way we did."
Rangers made two changes to the side that won last weekend's Old Firm derby with Ross Perry and Kyle Bartley coming in for the suspended Carlos Bocanegra and injured Rhys McCabe. With so much at stake for both clubs, the game started at a blistering pace and Motherwell had the lead after just six five minutes. Humphrey galloped down the right wing and cut into the box before taking the 'keeper out the game with a cut-back that Ojamaa knocked into the net from six yards.
However their lead lasted only minutes. Motherwell could only clear the ball as far as Sasa Papac and when he laid the ball off for Whittaker the Rangers defender took a couple of touches before rifling a swerving shot past Darren Randolph. Motherwell came close to retaking the lead when Nicky Law stabbed a shot towards goal but keeper McGregor was alert to the danger and saved well with his feet.
Rangers were appealing for a penalty in the 29th minute when Sone Aluko went down after appearing to be clipped by 'keeper Randolph but referee Iain Brines booked the Nigerian for simulation. Motherwell continued to cause problems after the break and McGregor did well to tip Lasley's fierce drive over the bar after he was set up by Ojamaa.
Whittaker then stretched to meet Papac's cross at the back post but he couldn't direct his header on target before Davis sent his volley from Aluko's cross wide. Motherwell came close to snatching an 81st minute lead when Ojamaa set up Higdon to fire a fierce strike towards goal but McGregor produced a superb save to deny the former St Mirren striker.
Rangers brought on Kyle Lafferty in a bid to find a winner and the Northern Ireland striker tested Randolph with a long range drive but the keeper was equal to it. However, with two minutes remaining Rangers claimed the winner when the Motherwell defence failed to deal with Perry's throw-in and McCulloch poked the ball home from close range.