Hedging his bets
Giovanni van Bronckhorst was playing the long game as the Ibrox club moved into a potentially historic final few weeks of their season.
Having secured an extra day to prepare for the first leg of the Europa League semi-final against RB Leipzig on Thursday night, with the fixture at Motherwell brought forward 24 hours, the Rangers manager also chose to keep plenty in reserve for that momentous assignment in Germany.
Van Bronckhorst made no fewer than eight changes from the starting line-up he sat out at Hampden the previous Sunday for the Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Celtic. Only captain James Tavernier and fellow defenders Connor Goldson and Borna Barisic retained their places.
The bench was loaded with players who will be expected to be key figures against Leipzig, including John Lundstram, Ryan Jack and Ryan Kent who were all unused subs.
It didn’t all go to plan on that front, however, with Calvin Bassey’s day off canceled when he had to be sent on into central defense after Leon Balogun’s straight red card for a foul on Dean Cornelius inside the opening half hour.
Responding to the latest injury blows which will sideline Kemar Roofe and Aaron Ramsey for at least a fortnight, joining Alfredo Morelos and Ianis Hagi on the absentees’ list, van Bronckhorst had challenged those on the periphery of his squad to ‘step up and show why’ they are at this club’.
Scott Wright provided exactly the kind of response the Dutchman was seeking. The 24-year-old was making his first start since the Scottish Cup tie against Annan back in February and delivered a highly-motivated, energetic and eye-catching display.
Wright’s claim for Rangers’ first goal may be dubious – it looked as though Motherwell goalkeeper Liam Kelly got the final touch before the ball crossed the line – but his strike which made it 2-1 early in the second half was outstanding.
Fashion Sakala, a hat-trick scorer on Rangers’ previous visit to Fir Park this season, couldn’t add to his tally this time. But the Zambian international made up for his lack of finesse with a willingness to run at the home defense which increasingly unsettled Motherwell as the afternoon went on.
Still a class act
Steven Davis may be approaching his final act in a Rangers jersey with his contract due to expire this summer. But the 37-year-old midfielder showed he still has much to offer with a typically assured and intelligent display which did much to guide Rangers to victory in testing circumstances.
The Northern Ireland captain’s ability to dictate the tempo of play is arguably without peer in Scottish football. He took the sting out of Motherwell’s efforts, pulling the strings to such an extent in the second half that it was the hosts who looked as if they had been reduced to 10 men.
Davis fully merited the standing ovation he received from the large traveling support when he was replaced by teenager Leon King in the closing minutes.
Motherwell (4-3-1-2): Kelly 6, Mugabi 6 (Amaluzor 68 5), Ojala 6, Lamie 6, Carroll 6; Cornelius 7, Slattery 6, Tierney 7; Goss 6 (O’Hara 68 5); Efford 6 (Woolery 68 5), Shields 6. Subs not used: Fox, Connelly, Shaw, Donnelly, Grimshaw, Nirennold.
Rangers (4-3-3): McGregor 6, Tavernier 8, Goldson 6, Balogun 2, Barisic 6; Arfield 6 (Aribo 68 5), Davis 9 (King 86), Kamara 6 (Sands 68 5); Wright 8 (Itten 86), Sakala 7, Diallo 5 (Bassey 30 6). Subs not used: McLaughlin, Bassey, Lundstram, Jack, Kent.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.