Crucial win for Rangers - Motherwell 0 Rangers 1 (Boyd 69 Pen)

Last updated : 02 January 2007 By Southside Johnny

Attendance 10,338

Manager Paul Le Guen made what must be one of the bravest decisions of his managerial career in stripping Barry Ferguson of the captaincy and replacing him in the starting line-up with Gavin Rae, who also wore the captain's armband. Depending on the outcome of today's game, the action by the under-pressure Ibrox Boss might be considered one of professional suicide.

There were three additional changes from Saturday with Ian Murray (making a welcome return for his first start of the season), Chris Burke and Dado Prso replacing Sasa Papac, Charlie Adam and Nacho Novo.

The home side fielded an unchanged side from that which drew with Celtic on Saturday, although their substitute's bench named three new signings, namely Paul Keegan and Trevor Molloy from St. Patrick's Athletic, Danny Murphy from Cork City.

There was a massive travelling support to back the Light Blues, perhaps twice the number who followed the League leaders to the same venue three days ago, and at least two ‘LE GUEN OUT' banners were displayed in the Davie Cooper Stand.

Chants and songs in support of Barry Ferguson filled the air as the game kicked off, with the Ibrox men on the attack from the opening seconds.

Fir Park was of course the venue for Paul Le Guen's first competitive game as Rangers' Manager - on a warm July afternoon his charges had displayed some outstanding football in a 2-1 win. Six months on, the contrast could not have been more stark.

Scott McDonald burst through on a long clearance from home goalkeeper (and former Ranger) Graeme Smith in fifteen minutes only to see his twenty-yard shot held by Allan McGregor.

Ten minutes later there was an injury blow for the visitors when Libor Sionko limped off to be replaced by Novo.

Rangers should have opened the scoring in 33 minutes when Rae's chip found Prso in front of goal only for the Croatian to head wide.

That was a bad miss - but sixty seconds later Novo was inches away with a curling shot from a Murray pass.

The Ibrox men stepped up the pace as the interval approached - Burke's angled drive from Jeremy Clement's pass being beaten away by Smith in 44 minutes.

Sixty seconds later Prso's overhead kick following an Alan Hutton throw-in flashed across the face of goal.

Rangers restarted still on the offensive - Prso's volley from a Boyd headflick being held by Smith in 51 minutes.

Four minutes later Novo twice saw drives from Prso's cutback blocked - firstly by Stephen Craigan, then by his own teammate Boyd.

It was not all one-way traffic - Scott McDonald's volley from a Brian Kerr cross being blocked by McGregor in 56 minutes.

End-to-end action was the order of the day - sixty seconds later Boyd's header from Burke's corner was held by Smith.

Motherwell came right back at the Light Blues - McDonald's 25-yard drive from a Murphy header was touched over by McGregor on the hour, then from the resultant Kerr corner David Clarkson's shot was blocked by McGregor before Richie Foran's header was cleared off the line by Karl Svensson.

In a swift counter-attack in 64 minutes Prso broke clear from the halfway line only to shoot into the side-netting with Boyd waiting for a cutback in the middle.

Five minutes later the deadlock was broken from the penalty spot when Prso, through on a Burke pass, was upended as he rounded Smith. Boyd duly converted the resultant spot-kick, to immense relief from the Light Blue legions.

All hell broke loose in 71 minutes when Kerr's close-in shot was blocked by McGregor, and in the resulting melee Marc Fitzpatrick kicked the grounded goalkeeper. Players from both sides rushed to the scene, with Prso and Foran confronting each other. Referee Mike McCurry imposed punishment in equal measure - red-carding both Fitzpatrick and Prso. Remarkably, these would prove to be the only two cards show by the official throughout the ninety minutes - and the ordering-off means that the Croatian will now miss next Sunday's Scottish Cup-tie at Dunfermline.

Back to the football, and three minutes later McDonald's shot on the turn was held by McGregor.

Julien Rodriguez replaced Boyd, and Sebo substituted for Burke in 79 and 86 minutes respectively - but Rangers were secure in a narrow but crucial victory.

Afterwards the beleagured Le Guen reflected on the Ferguson affair: ‘I made the decision in the interests of the team and the club. It was not an easy choice, but it was the right decision. I don't know if he will play for the club again, it remains to be seen. He tries to have too much influence. The fans don't understand. We must stick and fight together. This is a fantastic but difficult job - someone who undermines you makes your job more difficult. Barry Ferguson is a great player, a massive player, but he tries to have too much influence. He has to change his ways - I am the Manager. It has taken several weeks to arrive at this decision. I have discussed it with the Chairman.'

In the final analysis, it may well be that Le Guen is right. More than thirty years ago, one of his predecessors - the legendary Jock Wallace - made the controversial move to sell not one but two stars, namely Colin Stein and Willie Johnston. These transfers, unpopular at the time, were the catalyst to the building of a young team that went on a long unbeaten run and in time would break the nine-year stranglehold that Jock Stein's Celtic had on Scottish football.

MOTHERWELL G. Smith; Corrigan, Craigan, Renolds, Paterson (Murphy 45); McGarry (Molloy 69), Kerr, Fitzpatrick, Foran; McDonald, Clarkson (Keegan 81) UNUSED SUBS Meldrum, Quinn, D. Smith, Connolly

RANGERS McGregor; Hutton, Hemdani, Svensson, Murray; Sionko (Novo 25), Clement, Rae, Burke (Sebo 86); Prso, Boyd (Rodriguez 79) UNUSED SUBS Klos, Adam, Stanger, Lowing

REFEREE Mike McCurry