Steven Gerrard’s got his Rangers reign off to a winning start as the Ibrox side battled their way to a 2-0 win Europa League over FK Shkupi.
Jamie Murphy put the hosts ahead against the Macedonians midway through the first half, but it was not the kind if display the excited Gers faithful had been expecting from their new boss’ first game in charge.
With their team not only sluggish but also wasteful in front of goal, the supporters could be forgiven for thinking they were in for a repeat of last year’s humiliating upset at the hands of Luxembourg minnors Progres Niederkorn.
But new skipper James Tavernier ensured Gerrard’s side will head to Skopje for next Thursday’s first qualifying round return leg with breathing space after tucking home a stoppage-time penalty.
Gerrard handed debuts to five of his summer signings.
Allan McGregor was back in goal six years after calling time on his first Ibrox spell, while Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic were paired together at the back.
Left-back Jon Flannigan and midfielder Scott Arfield also made their competitive bows.
Gerrard will no doubt be pleased with the way his side monopolised the possession stats, but their failure to convert that to the scoresheet will have frustrated the former Champions League winner.
It took nine minutes of gentle probing for the hosts to create their first serious opening, but Murphy could not finish after Suat Zendeli punched a Tavernier cross his way.
But the sight of Shkupi midfielder Blagoja Ljamchevski clipping the top of McGregor’s crossbar on the quarter-hour mark as he shot from the edge of the area would have brought memories of last year’s early exit flooding back for the anxious Gers support.
Thankfully for Gerrard, Rangers’ breakthrough did arrive after 23 minutes.
Daniel Candeias released Tavernier down the inside right channel and the new Gers skipper did well to find Murphy darting in from the left. The winger could have played in Alfredo Morelos but instead went on his own as he ghosted past one defender before firing through a ruck of legs.
Yet the failure of Josh Windass, Morelos and Goldson to bury three golden chances before the break ensured a frostier welcome from the manager into the dressing room at half-time than should have been the case.
Windass saw a close-range header pushed away by Zendeli at full stretch, while Goldson and Morelos both failed to find the target despite being picked out by Tavernier’s pinpoint deliveries.
The right-back put in another wicked cross after 64 minutes as rusty Rangers eventually produced their first chance of the second period, but again Windass fluffed his headed attempt.
Gerrard introduced another new signing Ovie Ejaria soon after and the on-loan Liverpool youngster felt he should have had a penalty after tumbling over Kristijan Stojkoski’s flailing leg.
Shkupi were doing their best to waste time, but Gers got the break they needed at the death as Amir Bilali’s trip on Murphy was punished by Tavernier from the spot.