There is a theory that Rangers will pull up lame somewhere in the final furlong of this championship race. Yet those sensing an upset in Motherwell were proven wrong, and comprehensively so, as Walter Smith's supposedly creaking squad moved four points clear at the summit of the Scottish Premier League. In two spells in charge at Ibrox, Smith has now won 300 league matches.
Celtic could have leapfrogged their old foes by Wednesday night, if victories over Dundee United and Inverness are forthcoming. What is at least becoming increasingly clear is that the duel between the Old Firm for the title will go to the wire. Celtic merit narrow favouritism but Rangers' rampant display at Motherwell is worthy of note.
The hosts, who have not defeated Rangers since Boxing Day of 2002, never looked likely to improve upon that dismal record. Kyle Lafferty, Steven Davis, Nikica Jelavic and Steven Naismith – twice – notched the Rangers goals. And to think that a Celtic championship triumph would aid Motherwell's hopes of competing in Europe next season. Stuart McCall's side had recovered from 3-0 behind at Tynecastle a week earlier; they could summon no such response here.
David Weir, the Rangers captain, had chosen to have a slogan which hailed Friday's royal wedding stitched into the front of his shirt for the trip to Lanarkshire. An irrelevance in the grand scheme of things, but the sort of act which will have fuelled wailing, gnashing of teeth and shouts of justification from across Scotland as this game raged on.
If Rangers chose to sell such strips to their fans, a useful dent could be put into their much-publicised bank borrowing. The match sponsors, the All Scotland Pensioners Party, opted not to hand their man of the match award to Weir, who will turn 41 on 10 May.
Weir and the visiting defence were seldom troubled. Lafferty capitalised on generosity at the other end from Gavin Gunning, with the striker rounding the goalkeeper Darren Randolph before offering a calm finish.
Motherwell offered an instant but brief reply, Allan McGregor clawing a deflected Steve Jones shot out of his top corner. McGregor subsequently halted Francis Jeffers; those efforts proved about the total of Motherwell's attacking offering.
Lafferty would surely have collected a booking for kicking the ball away after the award of a first-half free-kick, were he not already on a yellow card. Such inconsistency in the application of rules is what riles Scottish fans and managers.
Lafferty's dissent was needless given the flow of the game. Davis converted a rebound after Naismith watched a shot blocked by Randolph, Gregg Wylde worthy of credit for his deep cross which prompted the opportunity.
Jelavic, who had already cracked the crossbar, received even better service from the unlikely source of Sasa Papac. The full-back laid a pass on to the head of Jelavic, who had no trouble heading home.
Enhanced quality followed. Naismith played a one-two with Wylde, before rifling past Randolph from 20 yards, 14 minutes from time. Time remained for Naismith to top his earlier strike. In stoppage time, he left Randolph static with a high and angled drive after the collection of El Hadji Diouf's pass.
Whether it may prove significant or not, Rangers had edged to within three of Celtic's superior goal difference.
|DAVID WEIR paid a special tribute to the newly-wed royals on behalf of Rangers today when he wore a specially-embroidered commemorative shirt against Motherwell. 'Congratulations William and Catherine, 29th April 2011'|