Stuart Kettlewell's unbeaten start to life as Motherwell manager is over - but not without giving Rangers a fright first.
Motherwell's 20-year wait for a top flight win over Rangers goes on after the Premiership title hopefuls had to come from behind at Fir Park to sink the Steelmen, ending a four-game streak without defeat for Kettlewell.
Dutch striker Kevin van Veen fired the hosts in front after just three minutes to stun Michael Beale's men, but Rangers skipper James Tavernier rose to the challenge as he curled in the equaliser from a free-kick 20 minutes later and then crossed for Fashion Sakala to put them in front just a minute into the second period.
Defender Bevis Mugabi was the unlikely scorer as Motherwell levelled after 59 minutes, but two goals in the space of six minutes soon after from Todd Cantwell and substitute Malik Tillman made sure Rangers walked away with the points, stretching their unbeaten run to 14 games.
Motherwell - who ended the game with 10 men after Callum Slattery's late red card - remain ninth in the table and six points clear of Ross County and Kilmarnock, while nine clear of rock bottom Dundee United who all play later in the day.
Rangers moved to within six points of leaders Celtic ahead of the Hoops hosting Hibs at 3pm.
Kettlewell made just one change from the side that won 2-0 at Ross County last time out on March 4, as Jon Obika dropped out of the squad, presumably through injury, and Dean Cornelius came into a more defensive-minded 11 than the one that triumphed in the Highlands.
There was positive news for the Steelmen on their bench as Mikael Mandron made the squad for the first time since a freak training ground injury in February ruled him out of action, while Shane Blaney was also back after an injury absence.
The visitors also made changes as Nicolas Raskin dropped out of the squad and Borna Barisic missed out as he is in his homeland of Croatia, with his wife about to give birth, so in came Ridvan Yilmaz and Scotland international Ryan Jack.
Rangers were heavy favourites but it was the visitors who took the lead after just three minutes.
Sean Goss sent Max Johnston down the right wing with a delicious ball over the top and the youngsters and provided an inch-perfect devliery across the face of goal for van Veen to poke home at the far post. The Steelmen were left sweating on a VAR check but the goal stood to provide the first goal boss Kettlewell has celebrated as a manager against Rangers in six games.
It was also a goal Motherwell fans in Block E didn't get the best view of as they stayed out of their seats for the first 15 minutes of the clash in a protest over tifo display disagreements with the club.
The stunning start gave Motherwell something to hold onto but their lead lasted 20 minutes. When John Lundstrum looked to burst into the box, he was cut down on the edge of the area by Callum Slattery, with the Motherwell midfielder picking up a yellow card for his troubles.
Tavernier sized up the free-kick and curled an effort up and down, over the wall, and into the bottom corner past the despairing dive of Liam Kelly with 23 minutes on the clock. It wasn't the most powerful of efforts from the Rangers captain, who just popped the ball into the huge space to Kelly's right, and the Steelmen skipper Kelly will feel he should have done better.
Rangers almost edged in front 10 minutes later when a cross deflected out to Lundstrum to hit on the volley. The midfielder caught it well and Kelly didn't know much about it as his effort smacked off his chest and fell to the feet of Fashion Sakala in the box, but he hooked the rebound wide of the target.
Motherwell may have made a fast start in the first half, but Rangers were even quicker out of the blocks at the beginning of the second half to turn the game on its head.
Just 60 seconds after the re-start, Tavernier turned provider when he swung a perfect cross from the right, straight onto the head of Sakala, who nodded the ball back across goal and beyond Kelly to make it 2-1.
Four minutes later Motherwell almost saw the game escape them completely when Antonio Colak was played in, but his woeful effort from a great position was hacked wide of the post from six yard, on the angle.
The Steelmen knew they weren't out the game yet, though, and they hauled themselves level in 58 minutes.
Goss swung a corner in and when it wasn't dealt with by the Rangers defence, Dan Casey nudged the ball forward and Mugabi slid in to poke the ball past McGregor from close range.
Moments later Motherwell had a huge chance to take the lead when van Veen latched onto a long ball and dinked it over the out-rushing Allan McGregor, but van Veen's lofted finish landed narrowly wide of the target and Rangers escaped.
From that opportunity, Rangers went straight up the other end and regained the lead.
Kelly produced a top save to deny Colak from close range and then Tavernier on the follow-up, but Cantwell blasted the ball home to find the net for Rangers at the third attempt.
Motherwell had showed great character to get back into the game, but the game was finally put beyond them in the 69th minute when the ball was laid off to Tillman on the edge of the box and he rifled the ball into the top corner past a helpless Kelly.
It got worse for them in 76 minutes when Slattery raised an arm in Cantwell's direction and referee Nick Walsh flashed a second yellow card and then a red, to reduce the hosts to 10 men for the final stages.
The Steelmen now pause for the international break and they return to Premiership action on April 1 away to Hibernian.
MOTHERWELL: Kelly, McGinn (Mugabi 53), Casey, Butcher, Furlong, Cornelius (Mandron 71), Johnston, Slattery, Spittal, Goss (Tierney 71), van Veen (Blaney 84).
Scorers: van Veen 3, Mugabi 59
Bookings: Casey, Slattery
Sent off: Slattery
Subs not used: Oxborough, O'Donnell, Lamie, McKinstry, Miller.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Yilmaz (Arfield 71), Davies, Lundstrum (Souttar 78), Cantwell (Kamara 78), Jack, Kent, Sakala (Tillman 65), Colak (Morelos 65).
Scorers: Tavernier 23, Sakala 46, Cantwell 63, Tillman 69
Subs not used: McLaughlin, Hagi, Wright, Devine.
Ref: Nick Walsh
VAR: Andrew Dallas
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