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Rangers and Motherwell will compete for Scottish Premiership football in a two-legged play-off final this week. The Scottish play-offs pitch the second-bottom Premiership side against the winner of the Championship play-offs, with the winner taking their place in the Premiership, and the loser consigned to Championship football next season.
Rangers overcame Queen of the South and Hibernian in the Championship play-offs, beating both over two legs, and they are now just 180 minutes away from a long-awaited return to the top flight. Standing in their way are Motherwell, who had the luxury of giving their players a rest in their last league game on Saturday – a 0-0 draw with Partick Thistle – as they already knew they were destined for this game. On the same day Rangers secured their passage against Hibs, and manager Stuart McCall praised his team’s spirit after a grueling campaign.
Road to the Final
The Rangers boss will have to raise his players for two more games as they face the home tie against Motherwell on Thursday evening, before the return leg at Motherwell on Sunday afternoon.
Rangers finished third in the Championship table, which meant they had to overcome a two-legged play-off against fourth-placed Queen of the South initially. They won 2-1 away from home in the first leg, before holding on to a 1-1 draw at Ibrox to complete a 3-2 aggregate win. That set them up for a second play-off tie against second-placed Championship side Hibernian. They won the first leg 2-0 on home ground, and dug deep to protect their lead in the second leg at Easter Road, and never looked like failing to progress, despite conceding a last-minute goal. That result took them through 2-1 on aggregate, and McCall said that his players would have a well-deserved day off before preparing for this tie.
Motherwell have had a poor season, and have known since the 2-1 defeat to bottom club St Mirren a couple of weeks ago, that they would be fighting for their Premiership survival in this tie.
To Win the Play Off
We backed Rangers to win the play-offs and work they way back to the promised land at 47/25 2.88 +188 1.88 1.88 -0.53 a few weeks ago before the competition started, and that looks a good bet now. Rangers can still be backed at a reasonable price as below, if you fancy them to do the job.
Motherwell – 5/4 2.25 +125 1.25 1.25 -0.80 with Coral
It’s a finely balanced tie, and one which is difficult to call as the sides have been playing in different divisions all season. One interesting aspect of the two matches is that brothers Nicky and Josh Law will play against each other, with Nicky representing Rangers and Josh playing for Motherwell. Family loyalties will be put to one side for the day at least, but it adds an extra bit of spice to a tie which is already burgeoning with importance.
First Leg Betting
The first leg presents a better betting opportunity if one wishes to back Rangers, and they are a decent price to win the first leg at home at Ibrox.
The two teams haven’t met since 2012, after Rangers were relegated down the leagues, but the Glasgow side have by far the better of the head to head record. You have to go as far back as 2002 for the last Motherwell win over Rangers, and that’s a statistic that will be tough for Motherwell to overcome. It gets even better for Rangers supporters at Ibrox, where they’ve won eight of the last ten meetings, and even ‘Well boss, Ian Baraclough accepts it’s a tough task for his side. He said that his team will ‘go there with a belief that we can come away with something to go for in the second leg’. With 50,000 roaring Rangers on, that might be too much for his side to hope for come Thursday night.
For Rangers, this is an ideal opportunity to earn themselves a lead before traveling away for the second leg – just as they did successfully against Hibs. They certainly have the momentum, and hadn’t lost in the eight matches prior to the 1-0 defeat at Hibs, which can be easily excused as they were 2-0 ahead on aggregate. They’ve only been beaten three times in the last twenty games at Ibrox, and have won a healthy eleven of those.
Motherwell’s recent form has been pretty patchy, as you might expect for a side that finished second bottom of the division. They only have one win to their name in the last six matches – a 3-1 victory over Kilmarnock – along with two draws and three defeats. A more telling statistic though, is that they have lost 13 of the last 15 games away from home, and a trip to a fervent Ibrox is hardly likely to spark a revival in fortunes.
The behind-the-scenes wrangling continues to rumble on at Rangers, with a Mike Ashley requested General Meeting scheduled for the 12th of June. It’s been an arduous three seasons outside the top flight for the hardcore Rangers support, and they’ve had to watch as their club has been stripped of playing assets under their noses. Any kind of stability looks a long way away at the moment, but the fans can at least concentrate on the football over the next few days, and their team should give them plenty to shout about on Thursday evening.
It’s difficult to look ahead to the second leg without knowing the result of the first, as it will obviously have a huge bearing on the way the match plays out, but if Rangers can get their noses in front in the first leg, it would be no surprise to see a stalemate in the second. For the time being though, we’re backing Stuart McCall’s men to come out on top in the first leg.
First Leg, Thursday 28th May, 7.45pm