Motherwell 1 Rangers 2: Le Guen's French revolution off to winning start
Monday 31 July 2006
Allez les Gers. Un match. Deux buts. Trois points. Le règne de Paul Le Guen est arrivé. As the Rangers fans might say: "'kin' aye! Pure deid brulyunt."
The travelling support will not be quite so enthusiastic about some of their side's finishing yesterday. Three gilt-edged chances went begging at the feet of Thomas Buffel in the first half alone. But an early opener by Libor Sionko, one of four new signings starting, and a winner by Dado Prso after Phil O'Donnell had levelled, guaranteed a triumphant start for the French manager.
"I'm very happy, we did well," Le Guen said. "Maybe I'm a little disappointed we did not score more from all our chances. But only a little. The most important thing, with Celtic and Hearts both winning on Saturday, is the three points.
"We had a good balance in our play today, some long balls, some [short] passing, a good mix. I'm not worried about Buffel. I know he is able to score and he will."
This success makes Le Guen only the second Rangers manager in the last eight to win the opening League game of his tenure. The other was Walter Smith. Given the circumstances there were plenty of pluses. Victory was achieved without Kris Boyd, the Scottish Premier League's leading goalscorer last season, who was suspended, and without Barry Ferguson, Rangers' talismanic captain whose recovery from ankle surgery is expected to take five more weeks. Out, too, were another pair, Ian Murray and Chris Burke, both injured.
Instead, Le Guen began with Brahim Hemdani in what will probably be Ferguson's role in the two-man holding-distribution pairing he favours in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Prso up front alone. Charlie Adam - on loan last season at St Mirren, who won the First Division - did well in operating behind Prso alongside Buffel and Sionko. The new goalkeeper, Lionel Letizi, was solid, while Stevie Smith at left-back caught the eye time and again with his swashbuckling runs.
Motherwell were dogged, hoping to prove they will not wither now that Terry Butcher has emigrated to Australia. But it was Rangers' wastefulness that kept the score respectable. Adam carved the hosts open as early as the fourth minute before Buffel chipped wide. Buffel then allowed Bobby Donnelly to intercept instead of shooting early, and later, after evading five men, chipped over. In between Sionko, fed by Adam, made it 1-0, and could have made it two but poked over.
Adam hit the bar early in the second half before O'Donnell equalised. Prso headed for 2-1 from a corner, and should have got his second in the final minute but blazed over.
Goals: Sionko (8) 0-1; O'Donnell (52) 1-1; Prso (66) 1-2.
Motherwell (4-4-2): Smith; Quinn, Craigan, Donnelly, Paterson; McGarry (Clarkson, 78), Kerr, O'Donnell, Foran (Fitzpatrick, 78); McCormack (McDonald, 62), Hamilton. Substitutes not used: Meldrum (gk), McBride, Connelly, Soutar.
Rangers (4-2-3-1): Letizi; Hutton, Svensson, Rodriguez, Smith; Hemdani, Clement; Adam, Buffel (N'Diaye, 90), Sionko (Novo, 80); Prso. Substitutes not used: McGregor (gk), Rae, Fan-Fan, Namouchi, Ashikodi.
Referee: J Underhill.
Booked: Motherwell Kerr, Fitzpatrick. Rangers Prso.
Man of the match: S Smith.
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