Shota Arveladze spared Rangers' blushes with a late goal that allowed them to avoid the gap growing any larger in the Scottish Premier League title race, but there was little here to inspire any thoughts of a campaign of resistance being mounted against Celtic.
The champions seemed destined to spill more points as Motherwell threatened to compound the damage inflicted in the Old Firm derby a fortnight ago, but Arveladze pounced with eight minutes left to clip in his 14th goal of the season. The relief of the 48,925 Ibrox crowd was tangible, but no one will have been deluded.
Rangers are coming under harsh scrutiny right now, and not just because Alex McLeish's side are under-performing on the pitch. The Glasgow club's £68m debt, run up during the glory years with excessive transfer fees and wages, has sparked widespread criticism.
And once Rangers failed to build on their fine start to the contest, it was clear this was going to be another nervy day at Ibrox, one that only served to tighten the focus on all the off-stage disenchantment.
Had young Hamed Namouchi scored after just eight minutes that might have altered things, but Gordon Marshall beat the Rangers midfielder's 25-yard shot wide, and there was precious little else for the crowd to get excited about.
Indeed, Motherwell began to take control of the midfield contest, their suffocating pressure leaving Mikel Arteta little room to display his artistry. It took the Spaniard until the 49th minute to conjure up a threat, bursting from the half-way line and supplying Arveladze with a pass which the striker conjured up into a fierce shot from the edge of the box, only for the alert Marshall to touch it wide.
But there was a noticeable lack of composure from Arveladze's colleagues, with Peter Lovenkrands producing some dreadful finishing once his pace had carried him into promising positions. Motherwell, in contrast, had fluency in abundance. Their slick passing only lacked a cutting edge - though Alex Burns almost profited when Henning Berg was short with a pass-back - but this young side were a credit to their manager, Terry Butcher.
However, the former England captain will have torn his hair out at the way his defence was finally opened up in the 82nd minute. Nuno Capucho threaded an angled pass to Arveladze - with Motherwell furious that no foul was given for Namouchi taking Steven Hammell out of play - and the Georgian striker beat the offside trap to knock a delicate finish over the advancing Marshall from a tight position.
Even then, Stephen Craigan almost snatched an equaliser for Motherwell, who last won at Ibrox in 1997; the manager then was someone called McLeish, but if Butcher continues his fine work, it will not be long before he tastes success on his old ground.
Rangers 1 Motherwell 0
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 48,925Reuse content