MOTHERWELL, Scotland (AFP) - Motherwell handed Celtic the initiative in the Scottish Premier League title race after holding Rangers to a 1-1 draw at Fir Park on Saturday.
Although the Ibrox side had taken the lead through Christian Daily in the first half, Chris Porter equalised in the second half to add to the Gers woes after their UEFA Cup final loss on Wednesday.
And the result means Celtic will almost certainly win their third title in a row if they defeat Dundee United at Tannadice on Thursday.
Rangers are now three points behind their Old Firm rivals and, although they have a game-in-hand away to St Mirren on Monday night, the Parkhead side are seven goals better off.
Walter Smith thought his side should have killed Motherwell off after taking the lead, but he was not ready to throw in the towel yet in the title race.
The Rangers manager said: "We started the game really well and deserved to be in front at half time.
"At the start of the second half Daniel Cousin had a great chance to score a second and kill the game.
"If we had went two ahead I think it would have been very hard for Motherwell to motivate themselves to get back into it.
"Instead, Motherwell got a lift from that and scored soon after.
"But the league isn't over yet and there is still a lot of football to be played."
Before the game there had been a minute's applause in respect of Celtic legend Tommy Burns - who had died, aged 51, on Thursday morning from skin cancer - and the players also wore black armbands.
Having achieved their aim of finishing third in the SPL the previous weekend, Motherwell had nothing to play for and as expected Rangers dominated early proceedings.
Nacho Novo had the first real chance of the match in the 21st minute.
Rangers captain Barry Ferguson's pass split the Motherwell defence but the Spaniard's shot from the edge of the box was deflected wide.
Daniel Cousin tested the home side's goalkeeper in the 24th minute with a powerful drive from 20-yards, which Graeme Smith did well to save low to his right.
But in the 29th minute Rangers grabbed the goal they so desperately sought, albeit through an unlikely scorer.
Kirk Broadfoot's hopeful ball into the box from the halfway line should have been easily dealt with by the Motherwell defence but inexplicably goalkeeper Smith had decided to race from his line to try and punch clear.
Instead, Rangers' defender Dailly beat him to the ball and nodded into the empty net.
Cousin should have given Rangers breathing space in the 46th minute when he barged past Mark Reynolds to go in on goal.
However, Smith raced from his line to narrow the angle and blocked the Gabon international's shot with his legs.
And in the 49th minute Rangers were punished for this miss when Motherwell levelled.
A David Clarkson header rebounded off the post, the ball fell to Steve McGarry who sent it back across goal and Porter prodded home from close range.
Motherwell manager Mark McGhee was happy with the result but angry with his players' first half display.
He said: "We might not have anything to play for but our fans expect us to try and we were diabolical in the first half.
"I gave them a real roasting at half-time and we were much better in the second half.
"To finish third and qualify for the UEFA Cup is a great achievement after we were nearly relegated last season."
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