LONDON, May 28 (Reuters) - Rangers' hopes of returning to the Scottish Premier League (SPL) for the first time since 2012 were dealt a severe blow when they were beaten 3-1 by Motherwell in the first leg of their playoff final at Ibrox on Thursday.
Lee Erwin's heavily deflected shot gave the visitors a 27th minute lead and Stephen McManus' header 13 minutes later doubled their advantage.
Lionel Ainsworth fired home an emphatic third in the 47th minute as Motherwell continued to dominate the match.
Rangers' Darren McGregor pulled a goal back for the 54-times Scottish champions in the 82nd minute before team mate Kris Boyd had an effort ruled out for offside.
Motherwell, who finished second-bottom in the SPL, held on to record their first victory at Ibrox since 1997.
Rangers, who came third in the Championship (second tier) and beat Hibernian in the playoff semi-final, were placed into administration and liquidation in 2012 before being forced to re-enter in the lowest professional league in Scotland.
Their bid for a third successive promotion is hanging by a thread ahead of the second leg at Fir Park on Sunday. (Reporting by Tom Hayward; editing by Ken Ferris)