Much-Rangers have picked up three points this afternoon against Motherwell as Scott Wright’s double and James Tavernier’s penalty sealed a 3-1 win at Fir Park despite playing an hour with ten men.
Rangers made eight changes from the Hampden win over Celtic with only Tavernier, Connor Goldson and Borna Barisic retaining their place in the starting XI.
That meant there were opportunities for several of the fringe players at Ibrox as the likes of Wright, Steven Davis, Amad Diallo and Fashion Sakala were handed rare starts.
There was clearly one eye on Thursday’s Europa League semi-final first leg against RB Leipzig with van Bronckhorst’s selection but there was enough ability and experience in the Light Blues’ starting XI for the Gers boss to insist pre-match that he hadn’t taken a “gamble” with his selection.
The opening stages saw both sides struggling to really take control of proceedings, possession going back and forth between the Gers and their hosts as both tried to get the feel of the other.
Rangers could have got themselves in front on ten minutes, Sakala breaking brilliantly before feeding Amad but the Ivorian’s strike was blocked by Jake Carroll with Liam Kelly looking beaten.
At the resulting corner, there was a worry for Rangers, Leon Balogun suffering a head knock and needing treatment – with the Light Blues waiting to take another corner.
Once things got back underway, the opener came through Scott Wright – although the praise needs to go to Connor Goldson after his header could only be pushed across goal by Kelly and Wright knocked it home from inches out.
Taking the lead allowed Rangers to really hit their stride, moving the ball with purpose and at speed while pulling the Motherwell defensive banks from side to side to try and open up gaps to flood into.
The Light Blues were looking threatening and James Tavernier almost added another to his incredible goal tally when he watched his effort flash within inches of Kelly’s back post.
Just as there was a sense of inevitability about Rangers making it 2-0, referee Nick Walsh intervened and flashed a red card at Leon Balogun just before the half-hour.
That prompted an immediate change for the Gers, Calvin Bassey coming on for Diallo as his chance to impress came to an end much sooner than he would have anticipated.
Moments after the Balogun red, Juhani Ohala probably should have seen red for a similarly late and dangerous challenge on Scott Wright; Walsh deciding it only merited a yellow.
Soon after, Motherwell were back on level terms, Glen Kamara gifting possession in a dangerous area before Ross Tierney headed into the bottom corner with ten minutes left in the opening 45.
As the minutes ticked away until the break, Scott Wright should have made it 2-1, somehow failing to get a shot away as frustrations began to build for the Gers.
Van Bronckhorst will have been happy to hear the half-time whistle blow and get the chance to refocus his players ahead of a massive 45 minutes – while Leon Balogun will have had a few apologies to make after leaving his teammates in the lurch.
Whatever was said during the break had the desired effect, Rangers restoring their lead just two minutes after the restart – Scott Wright again the goalscorer after excellent work by Sakala.
The Zambian drove at the ‘Well defence before feeding Wright and his strike nestled just inside Kelly’s right-hand post.
Rangers were again looking pretty comfortable but it was becoming clear that the back four have lost some trust in Allan McGregor when high crosses come into the box.
The veteran continues to remain rooted to his line and the defence just seem to be having to do what they can to clear with little help from the keeper.
With 30 minutes to go, Nick Walsh pointed to the spot after Sakala was brought down inside the area, James Tavernier stepping up to score his 80th goal for the club and make it 3-1.
There was no question over the penalty – or the finish – and the result looked to be out of sight.
As the sun beat down on Motherwell, the Rangers fans were in party mood and, with the points apparently secured, a possible trip to the Europa League final in Seville was first and foremost in the fans’ minds.
A double change for Rangers with just over 20 minutes left saw James Sands and Joe Aribo come on for Glen Kamara and Scott Arfield.
Motherwell briefly tried to mount something of a late comeback but they had no answer as Rangers defended really well and looked as though it was the visitors who had a man advantage on the pitch.
It was almost four for Rangers as Sakala came close to grabbing a well-deserved goal, getting on the end of a delightful ball from Goldson but the striker make the wrong choice of finish and Kelly was able to deny the Ibrox star.
A second double change saw Scott Wright and Steven Davis coming off – Davis having been outstanding in the middle of the pitch – with Leon King and Cedric Itten replacing them for the final few minutes.
There would be no late drama as Rangers cut Celtic’s gap at the top of the table to three points and attention now turns to Thursday night and the biggest European game involving a Scottish side since the last time Rangers were in a European semi-final.
Motherwell: Kelly, Mugabi, Lamie, Ojala, Carroll, Cornelius, Goss, Slattery, Tierney, Efford, Shields.
Subs: Fox, Connolly, Woolery, O’Hara, Shaw, Amaluzor, Donnelly, Grimshaw, Nirennold.
Rangers: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Balogun, Barisic, Davis, Kamara, Arfield, Diallo, Sakala, Wright
Subs: McLaughlin, Bassey, King, Lundstram, Jack, Aribo, Sands, Itten, Kent