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Beale’s men do their talking on the pitch

By Graham Swann AT FIR PARK

ON another day of protests, here was an obstacle cleared by Michael Beale’s Rangers once again. Like a lot things surrounding the Ibrox club these days, it was at times turbulent and not always pretty — but the job was complete.

Against a backdrop of fed-up fans who held up cards with the faces of managing director Stewart Robertson and sporting director Ross Wilson scored out, the men in blue at least did their talking on the pitch in Lanarkshire.

Trailing to Kevin van Veen’s thirdminute opener, Rangers equalised thanks to captain James Tavernier’s free-kick — his 98th goal for the club. Fashion Sakala headed them in front just after half-time before substitute Bevis Mugabi prodded Motherwell level near the hour.

A lively second half finished with two goals for Beale’s men thanks to Todd Cantwell and sub Malik Tillman to ensure the manager has lost only one match — the League Cup final to Celtic — out of 19 in charge.

They still trail Ange Postecoglou’s side by nine points after the champions beat Hibernian 3-1 later in the afternoon.

This was Stuart Kettlewell’s first defeat in five games in charge of the Steelmen, who haven’t beaten Rangers in the league since Boxing Day 2002 and saw midfielder Callum Slattery shown a second yellow card for catching Cantwell with an arm.

With Borna Barisic having travelled to his native Croatia as his wife is due to give birth, Ridvan Yilmaz made his first start for Rangers at left-back since October. Nicolas Raskin was out with a quad issue, so Ryan Jack took the Belgian’s place in midfield.

While the large travelling support made their feelings clear, a section of home fans also took a stand.

The Well Bois fans group displayed a banner: Heavy hands, empty stands. The section remained empty at kick-off with supporters refusing to take to their seats for the opening 15 minutes in protest after recent disagreements with the club’s safety officer over banners and other paraphernalia.

On the pitch, it was the best possible start for the hosts. Sean Goss’ pass split the Rangers defence as he found Max Johnston on the right, with Yilmaz chasing a lost cause. The wing-back delivered a perfect cross for Van Veen to convert at the back post.

Celebrations were delayed as a VAR check took place for possible offside but the goal stood and Motherwell were ahead after only three minutes.

Rangers equalised midway through the first half. Slattery was booked for chopping down John Lundstram on the edge of the box. From the left angle, Tavernier curled a free-kick over the wall and exploited a big gap to find the bottom corner of the net.

It was well placed but, given it wasn’t a ferocious effort, Fir Park goalkeeper Liam Kelly — desperate to impress Scotland manager Steve Clarke ahead of the upcoming Euro 2024 qualifiers against Cyprus and Spain — should have done better.

Kelly made some sort of amends 11 minutes before half-time when Lundstram unleashed a fierce volley from 20 yards and the ball seemed to hit the perhaps unsighted goalkeeper on the chest. Sakala could only divert his follow-up effort behind.

Having fallen behind so early, Rangers turned the tables with their own fast start after the interval. A minute following the break, Tavernier swung in a cross and Sakala outjumped Paul McGinn to head home. Again, there was a VAR check for a potential foul but the visitors had their lead.

What followed midway through the second half was chaotic. First, on 59 minutes, Motherwell equalised and it was a shambles from Rangers’ perspective.

It started with Lundstram’s panicked header behind for a corner. From the delivery, Tavernier headed the ball into the air. A host of bodies jumped together, with Dan Casey getting a touch.

The ball dropped to the ground, Rangers striker Antonio Colak tried to shield it but substitute Mugabi slid in to score.

Four minutes later, the Ibrox side were back in front. Sakala crossed from the left and Ryan Kent, Colak and Tavernier all had shots blocked before Cantwell fired home.

Both those efforts were checked momentarily by VAR before it was 4-2 on 69 minutes when on-loan Bayern Munich attacker Tillman, who had come on for Sakala, was set up by Alfredo Morelos — also just introduced in place of Colak — to fire into the top corner from the edge of the box.

Motherwell’s misery was compounded when Slattery was shown a second yellow after catching Cantwell with an arm to his face. MOTHERWELL (5-3-2): Kelly; Johnston, McGinn (Mugabi 53), Butcher, Casey, Furlong; Slattery, Goss (Tierney 71), Cornelius (Mandron 71); Van Veen (Blaney 84), Spittal. Subs (not used): Oxborough, O’Donnell, Lamie, McKinstry, Miller. Booked: Casey, Slattery.

Sent off: Slattery.

RANGERS (4-3-3): McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Davies, Yilmaz (Arfield 71); Cantwell (Kamara 78), Lundstram (Souttar 78), Jack; Sakala (Tillman 65), Colak (Morelos 65), Kent. Subs (not used): McLaughlin, Hagi, Wright, Devine. Booked:Jack. Referee: Nick Walsh. Attendance: 8,610.





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