Rangers thrash Motherwell to go four points clear at top
Fashion Sakala scored a hat-trick as Rangers powered past 10-man Motherwell to stretch their Scottish Premiership lead to four points.
Bevis Mugabi squeezed the hosts in front but Rangers captain James Tavernier stroked in a superb volley and then crossed for Sakala to turn the game around on half-time.
Sakala added further strikes either side of Glen Kamara’s fine goal in the second half with Motherwell captain Stephen O’Donnell sent off at 3-1. Kemar Roofe rounded off a thumping win.
The victory means Steven Gerrard’s side are four points clear of second-place Celtic, with Hearts and Dundee United also dropping points this weekend. The bruising loss keeps Motherwell seventh.
Rangers initially produced their archetypal league display so far as they conceded first for the ninth time in all competitions and third time in a week in the Premiership, only to shake themselves to life and turn the game in style.
A defensive mix-up between Tavernier and Connor Goldson from a long ball led to an unnecessary corner, from which Sondre Solholm Johansen forced Allan McGregor into a fine stop only for Mugabi to turn the ball into the far corner on the rebound.
Mugabi was key to Motherwell’s response in defence as he consistently repelled crosses into the box, but eventually Rangers were able to free their full-backs to cause problems and turn the tide.
First, left-back Calvin Bassey was allowed to swing a high ball in which found Tavernier at the back post, and he composed himself impressively to take it first time and drill into the far corner.
It was a sumptuous strike, and it roused Rangers before the break as Motherwell toiled. After surviving one scare in the box, they allowed Tavernier room on the right to land the ball on Sakala’s head and the Zambian striker planted it beyond Liam Kelly.
Having started brightly, Motherwell lost their way and were kept at arm’s length by a dominant Rangers performance.
Sakala eventually netted the third goal with a strike on the edge of the box that struck Mugabi and flew past Kelly in the Motherwell goal.
And things were to get worse for Motherwell as O’Donnell – booked in the first half for holding back Sakala – was dismissed after a late tackle on Bassey, before Kamara drove home from the edge of the box to grab his first goal of the season.
Sakala was enjoying a rare start and made sure he will be in firm contention to start against Brondby in the Europa League as he pounced from close range to tap in from Steven Davis’ cross to grab a hat-trick.
And top scorer Roofe capped a fine victory by stabbing home after fellow substitute Jack Simpson flicked on Tavernier’s corner.
Man of the match – Fashion Sakala
What did we learn?
This was more like it from Rangers. They have been effective enough so far this season while being much more vulnerable at the back and less threatening in front of goal than last term.
It is unfair to expect them to repeat last term’s 102-point season, but they looked far more like the team who strolled to the title.
Tavernier was outstanding, his goal and assist completing flipping the momentum when Rangers were being frustrated by Motherwell.
It laid the platform for a more vibrant performance, and they cut loose after O’Donnell’s sending off. Sakala’s performance was a huge positive for Gerrard, who needed his new signing to step up and provide a more direct threat in the absence of Ryan Kent.
In the context of the title race, a thumping win also felt significant. Celtic had the chance to go top of the league, but missed a stoppage-time penalty, while Rangers were ruthless. There is a long way to go – and the slow opening 35 minutes will not be forgotten by Gerrard – but perhaps this is a turning point.
As for Motherwell, it was a day to forget. Scoring early gave them something to hold on to, but as soon as they scored they stopped getting up the pitch and were constantly hemmed in.
A change at the start of the second half probably should have been made quicker in order to give Rangers something to think about, but by the time Kevin van Veen came on, Sakala had effectively ended the game with Rangers’ third goal.
O’Donnell’s red card left an already creaking back line vulnerable, and they were ruthlessly exposed. It’s now five defeats in six for Graham Alexander’s men. They need to recapture some their efficiency in attack and hold on to the ball better.
What they said
Motherwell manager Graham Alexander: “For 42 minutes the game went how we wanted to. We defended our half really well, had chances to score and did score. But the two goals just before half time. The first one was a world class finish. When they score from those sort of angles your hold your hands up.
“We’re all very disappointed to say the least. There’s a long way to go this season, we’ve done some good things, we have to learn what we can from that spell when the result was in the balance.”
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard on Sky Sports: “I think that’s been coming, it’s almost been in the post. We’ve been waiting for that performance for some time. It was back to our identity. I thought we were an inch away from being perfect today, all round we were superb.
“Fashion’s been waiting to do that. He’s shown glimpses, he’s shown flashes. He’s gone and delivered for his team today.”
Motherwell are away to Aberdeen in the Premiership on Saturday (15:00 GMT), while Rangers face a trip to Denmark to face Brondby in the Europa League on Thursday (17:45) followed by a home match in the league against Ross County on Sunday (15:00).