Rangers' Premier dream fading fast as Motherwell cruise to victory
Rangers 1-3 Motherwell
Rangers face being locked out of the Scottish Premiership for another 12 months after Motherwell grabbed a shock 3-1 first-leg lead in their Scottish Premiership play-off final.
The Light Blues are desperate to fight their way back to the top division after three years in the lower-league wilderness.
But it is Ian Baraclough's team who now look set to preserve their 30-year top-flight run after goals from Stephen McManus and Lionel Ainsworth put daylight between the teams after Rangers defender Darren McGregor had earlier deflected Lee Erwin's shot into his own net.
McGregor did pull one back for the hosts late on but they face a huge task if they are to rescue their promotion bid in Sunday's Fir Park return.
Motherwell boss Baraclough said: "It was becoming a long night. Rangers were throwing everything at us but it was a fantastic performance.
"We came here with a game plan and we executed it. Everyone showed what they can do, I knew we had a performance coming.
"We needed to be patient and pick the right passes at the right time.
"It's probably the best performance in my time and we'll need another one on Sunday.
"Nobody is getting ahead of themselves."
Motherwell goalscorer McManus added: "We've given ourselves a half-decent chance but we know it's going to be tough, we know how good Rangers are.
"It was a real team performance from us. Some of us have been around a long time and know this tie is still open."
Baraclough only took over the Lanarkshire outfit last December - a month after current Gers boss Stuart McCall walked away from the Well job with the side second bottom of the table.
McCall admitted facing his old side in the relegation decider was a "nightmare scenario" but there is little chance he thought it would end up this bad.
He even ditched the cautious approach and three-man defence which saw them through their semi-final second leg at Hibernian as skipper Lee McCulloch was benched.
The Gers surge produced an ear-splitting roar as the Ibrox faithful demanded the opener - but when it went to Motherwell after 27 minutes the home support fell silent.
Marius Zaliukas first allowed Josh Law - Gers player Nicky's brother - to find Erwin before letting the striker skip by to shoot. His strike was heading into Cammy Bell's arms but McGregor committed a cardinal sin as he stuck a leg out, diverting the ball into the net.
Once more the bite disappeared from Rangers' bark as Zaliukas and Lee Wallace both failed to climb with McManus as he got on the end of Marvin Johnson's free-kick delivery to nod in the second five minutes before the break.
Bad went to much, much worse two minutes after the restart as Richard Foster's misplaced pass allowed Stephen Pearson to break forward. He found Erwin, who then slotted in Ainsworth to bury the third with a low finish under Bell.
McCall rolled the dice, replacing Clark and Dean Shiels with striker Kris Boyd and young winger Tom Walsh, while on-loan Newcastle player Shane Ferguson - like Shiels, a Northern Ireland international - was also thrown on for his Rangers debut four months after arriving from St James' Park.
With nine minutes left McGregor did find a way past Long as he powered home a header from Law's corner to give his side some hope.
Boyd then slammed home from Andrew Murdoch's pass, but the 31-year-old was offside.