Rangers marked Steven Gerrard’s first competitive match as manager with victory over Macedonian side FK Shkupi in the first leg of the Europa League first round qualifier.
Jamie Murphy’s opener was the least the home side deserved for a bright first-half display.
More subdued after the break, Rangers got the crucial second goal courtesy of a late James Tavernier penalty.
The second leg takes place in Skopje on Tuesday 17 July.
Gerrard had warned in the build-up he would not tolerate a repeat of the complacency which contributed to the humiliating aggregate defeat to Luxembourg minnows Progres Niederkorn at this stage of the competition last season.
Perhaps with that warning fresh in their minds, a Rangers starting line-up featuring six summer signings started on the front foot.
Daniel Candeias’ cross was parried by Suat Zendeli in the Shkupi goal into the path of Murphy but his effort was tame. Zendeli then had to intercept Tavernier’s cutback to prevent Alfredo Morelos tapping home into the empty net.
There was a sharp collective intake of breath amongst the Ibrox faithful when Blagoja Ljamcevski’s brilliant curling effort from 20 yards sailed past goalkeeper Allan McGregor, only to hit the crossbar.
The nerves were settled midway through the first half as Rangers made the breakthrough. Tavernier, appointed club captain by Gerrard, collected the ball on halfway and drove towards the Shkupi box. He found Murphy who worked a yard to fire off a shot that Zendeli, despite getting a foot to the ball, could not keep out.
The keeper partially atoned for his error with a terrific save to keep out Josh Windass’ goal-bound header. The home side were now well on top and Windass went close with another header moments later after great build-up play from Morelos.
Jon Flanagan, the former Liverpool full-back who moved to Ibrox in the summer, almost added a second in bizarre circumstances. His attempted cross took a big deflection and looked for a moment to have beaten Zendeli, but the Shkupi captain sprung to his left to claw the ball away.
Morelos should have done better after being found by an excellent Tavernier cross, but the Columbian striker put his effort over the bar. Scott Arfield and Connor Goldson passed up further chances as Rangers failed to add the second goal before the break their first-half dominance merited.
That superiority was not maintained in the early stages of the second period. Rangers’ play became somewhat pedestrian and Shkupi threatened to level when Amir Bilali and then Blazhe Illjoski both went close for the Macedonian outfit.
Tavernier was the primary source of Rangers’ chances and he put in another peach of a delivery that was begging to be turned home, but again Windass could not direct his header on target.
The fluency of the first half was missing though, and even the introduction of substitutes Ryan Jack and Ovie Ejaria failed to reignite the home side.
The Rangers fans would have needed no reminding that a 1-0 aggregate advantage proved insufficient in Luxembourg last season, and there was a sense of anxiety amongst the home support as their team struggled to find a comforting second goal.
Ejaria was looking for a penalty after going down under a challenge in the box but the referee saw no foul. Nikola Katic then failed to turn home Ross McCrorie’s knockdown from a corner, unable to sort his feet out to put the ball away from eight yards.
Glenn Middleton, Gerrard’s third and final substitute, brought some much needed attacking purpose to Rangers’ play in the closing stages.
It looked like they would have to make do with a one-goal lead to take to Skopje for Tuesday’s second leg. However, the referee pointed to the spot when Murphy went down in the box and Tavernier, the game’s standout player, struck a confident penalty in the 92nd minute to ensure his side would have a more comfortable cushion heading to Macedonia.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/44770085