'Phenomenal' Motherwell win a 'huge blow' to Rangers title bid
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'Phenomenal' Motherwell win a 'huge blow' to Rangers title bid

Mar 3, 2024

“A huge blow – absolutely huge.” Former Celtic and Rangers striker Kenny Miller could have been talking about either side of the Old Firm any time they slip up unexpectedly on league duty.

That he was speaking after the Ibrox side were stunned out of the blue at home to Motherwell just when they seemed to have their city rivals on the back foot could have special significance with games running out in the title race.

Bar a chastening defeat away to the reigning champions at the end of December, everything had been going swimmingly for Rangers since Philippe Clement inherited the manager’s job from the hapless Michael Beale in October.

The only other points dropped came before that in a November draw at Aberdeen and, since losing to Celtic, the Ibrox side had gone on an impressive 11-game winning run.

However, Motherwell brought that to a shuddering halt at Ibrox, their 2-1 victory being their first win away to Rangers since 2015 – and their first in 19 meetings overall with the Glasgow side.

‘I thought this would come much earlier’

Mothewell's Theo Bair and Lennon Miller celebrate
Theo Bair (left) scored and troubled Rangers defence all afternoon

Clement has already proven himself a canny and considered public speaker and was not about to lambast his players for handing Celtic the chance to return to the top when they visit Hearts on Sunday.

“I didn’t expect to have this moment after five months in the building,” he said, suggesting “luck” was not on Rangers’ side on this occasion. “I thought it would be much earlier.

“They are very disappointed and a lot of heads are down. But you need to cope with it, take the right lessons and learn from it to become better.”

Clement stressed he has “a rule” that he does not expect new players to settle for a year, so it will be to the Ibrox stalwarts rather than January additions he will look to most for leadership.

Worryingly for the Belgian, many are the same players who have – bar one title-winning season under Steven Gerrard – all too often stumbled when they have had the chance to consolidate a lead over Celtic or usurp them.

“Now I’ll get to know my team even better,” Clement said. “I know them really well already, but now I’m going to see who’s going to be the guys to stand up after a disappointment. I don’t doubt it too much.”

Miller was among the majority surprised Rangers lost at home to a side who had only ended a 12-game run without an away win by beating bottom club Livingston in midweek.

“I don’t think many in the 53,000 at Ibrox would have expected to see that type of result,” the former Scotland striker told BBC Sportsound.

“We always thought the title race could go to the wire, that there would be twists and turns over the final 10 games, but I don’t think anyone could have seen that one coming.

“It’s given the edge now to Celtic. Can they go and take advantage of that tomorrow? That’s the big question.”

Rangers will have plenty of time to stew over their situation as they have a Europa League last-16 meeting with Benfica and a Scottish Cup quarter-final with Hibernian to negotiate before returning to league action.

“The last time they got beat was at Celtic Park and a lot of questions were asked of them then,” Miller said. “Is this Rangers side going to bounce back the same way?”

How Motherwell produced ‘phenomenal’ result

This was no backs-to-the-wall, smash-and-grab Motherwell win.

Theo Bair, a striker reborn since joining Motherwell, gave centre-half Connor Goldson a torrid time on top of his opening goal and the visitors had other chances aside from Dan Casey’s winner after James Tavernier’s penalty equaliser.

Motherwell women coach and former Scotland midfielder Leanne Crichton said: “From the get-go, Stuart Kettlewell’s got his game-plan spot on in the way he wanted to play it and nullify the threat of Rangers.

“In the middle of the pitch, they matched up Rangers and probably outplayed them at points in terms of securing the ball.

“He will be immensely proud of his side. They will have been bitterly disappointed with the two late goals against Celtic last weekend, but to back that up with a historical win at Ibrox is incredible.”

Indeed, Kettlewell was particularly pleased at the way Bair and strike partner Jack Vale “carried a threat” all afternoon.

Bair’s statistics have gone from one goal in 38 with St Johnstone to 11 in 32 with Motherwell.

The Fir Park side are now only two points off sixth place, and former Motherwell captain Stephen Craigan insists they “now have a real opportunity” to finish in the top half.

A far cry, he points out, from a few months ago when “people have been calling for Kettlewell’s head”.

“I’ve played here in 7-0s and 7-1s and 6-0s,” he recalled. “And it’s horrible. You leave feeling empty.

“Those players should let it soak in and embrace it because it doesn’t happen very often when you are at a small club. They deserved something out of the game and managed to do it. Phenomenal.”

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