Rangers have a mountain to climb following a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Motherwell at Ibrox on Thursday night – most of the damage being done in the first-half.
The Fir Park men had not won at Ibrox since 1997 but must now feel confident going into Sunday’s second leg.
The game opened at a hectic pace with both sides going all out for an early opener – a solo run from Kenny Miller almost brought the house down in twelve minutes – cutting in from the left, his curling right-foot shot from the edge of the area.
Nine minutes later a superb inch-perfect pass from Dean Shiels found Richard Foster racing clear on the right, his cut-back deflected into the path of Nicky Law who blasted a shot at goal only to see it beaten away by visiting ‘keeper George Long.
Against the run of play Motherwell grabbed the opener in 27 minutes when Lee Erwin broke down the right on a Josh Law (brother of Nicky) pass, turning inside before seeing his effort deflected into the net by Darren McGregor.
Seven minutes later a Haris Vuckic corner produced not one but two goal-line blocks, firstly from a McGregor header than from Clark’s low drive as Rangers attempted to fight back.
Things went from bad to worse on 40 minutes when – from an in-swinging Johnson free-kick – Stephen McManus rose to head home.
The boos rang out at the interval – and two minutes after the restart a swift counter-attack from the visitors cut the Light Blue defence wide open, Erwin breaking free before finding Lionel Ainsworth who kept his cool to rifle the ball home.
In a desperate effort to turn things around Stuart McCall made a double substitution soon afterwards, substituting Tom Walsh and Kris Boyd for Shiels and Clark.
Midway through the second-half there was a long-awaited first appearance in Light Blue for Shane Ferguson who came on for Marius Zaliukas as McCall reorganised hi back four with Wallace moving into central defence.
Boyd came agonisingly close to reducing the deficit in 73 minutes when his bullet header from a Foster cross was turned over by Long.
Finally – nine minutes later – it was McGregor who rose to head home a Law corner.
Ferguson had made quite an impact – his pace down the left threatening danger with every attack.
The closing stages were all Rangers but there was to be no further breakthrough although Vuckic came close in the dying seconds.
Rangers: Bell; Foster, McGregor, Zaliukas (Ferguson 67), Wallace; Vuckic, Murdoch, Shiels (Walsh 54), Law; Clark (Boyd 55), Miller
Unused Subs: Robinson, Smith, McCulloch, Black
Motherwell: Long; Law, McManus, Laing, Hammell (Straker 70); Ainsworth, Lasley, Pearson (Ramsden 82), Johnson; McDonald, Erwin (Moore 87)
Unused Subs: Twardzik, Sutton, Grant, Watt
Referee: Bobby Madden