Steven Gerrard said he would not have to give a team-talk because the shame of Rangers’ exit at this stage 12 months ago had done it for him.
He will certainly have to find some words in the coming days if the start of his managerial career is to avoid similar ignominy against FK Shkupi, Macedonia’s fourth best team.
Former boss Pedro Caixinha did not recover from the Europa League exit to Luxembourg part-timers Progres Niederkorn last summer and, for Gerrard, defeat in Tuesday’s second leg in Skopje – where temperatures will top 30C – would turn up the heat on the rookie manager.
Jamie Murphy (right) shoots to open the scoring with a low left-footed strike the the first half of Thursday’s clash at Ibrox
Murphy (2nd right) watches on as his effort heads towards goal during the Europa League first-round qualifier
The Scottish winger celebrates after becoming the first player to score under new manager Steven Gerrard
Murphy roars with delight after breaking the deadlock in his side’s first competitive game of the new campaign
Gerrard applauds the Rangers during his first competitive match since becoming the club’s new manager
James Tavernier doubles Rangers’ lead from the penalty spot after Murphy was fouled in the box in injury time
The new Rangers captain wheels away in celebration after putting the Scottish outfit in firm control of the Europa League tie
Tavernier pumps his fist in front of the Rangers fans after scoring his side’s second goal of the first-round qualifier
Rangers: McGregor, Goldson, Tavernier, Windass (Middleton 79), Flanagan, Murphy, Arfield (Ejaria 67), Katic, McCorie, Morelos, Candeias (Jack 56)
Subs not used: John, Halliday, Docherty, Alnwick
Goals: Murphy 23, Tavernier 90+2
Booked: Morelos, Candeias
Shkupi: Zendeli, Tipuric, Bajrami (Bilali 45), Muarem, Broja, Ilijoski, Adem, Ljamcevski (Shabani 61), Owono Nchamaa (Krivanjeva 90+2), Vujcic, Stojkovski
Subs not used: Aleksovski, Veliu, Ismailji
Booked: Broja, Ilijoski, Owono Nchamaaa, Stojkovski
Referee: Christian Dingert
At least he looked the part for his competitive bow – dark suit, blue shirt, club tie – but the same could not be said of his bedraggled team.
Gerrard used his programme notes to outline his playing philosophy, as he revealed ‘we are going to press hard and high and try to win the ball back in interesting areas. We should be an exciting team to watch’. Sound familiar? You cannot fault his ambition if it is to recreate a brand of football like that of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
But it was more flop than Klopp during a nervy opening in which Blagoja Ljamchevski’s curling shot clipped the crossbar for the visitors on 14 minutes.
That scare drew an almighty roar of encouragement from the sell-out home crowd – it will take a little while yet for the goodwill towards Gerrard to dissipate here – and those in blue duly responded.
The breakthrough arrived on 23 minutes when Jamie Murphy climaxed a lightening breakaway with a close-range finish.
Gerrard did not celebrate, instead using the break in play to summon Daniel Candeias and issue instruction – the Portuguese would do well to listen given it is his manager’s old central-midfield berth he occupies.
It was the forwards, however, with whom he should have sought to offer guidance, for their finishing during the remainder of the half was about as accurate as the dart-throwing of the English press corps in Repino.
Rangers fans show their support as their team made their way out onto the pitch for the start of the new campaign
Former Liverpool captain Gerrard issues instructions to his players during his first match since stepping into management
Alfredo Morelos (centre) of Rangers breaks away from Toni Tipuric (left) of Shkupi during the first half of Thursday’s clash
Josh Windass is prevented from crossing the ball as Rangers looked to extend their lead in the Europa League tie
Defender Connor Goldson (centre) – unmarked at the far post – sends his header crashing into the side-netting
Josh Windass headed against the post from inside the six-yard area and had an immediate shot at redemption only to nod over from an identical position.
Perhaps heading will be the focus of Friday’s training session, for Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos soon planted into the crowd via his brow. Then it was the turn of former Brighton defender Connor Goldson – unmarked at the far post – to send his header crashing into the side-netting.
Into the second half and they were still at it, Windass again glancing over when he should have scored.
They did not fare any better with their feet until skipper James Tavernier netted a stoppage-time penalty, but still the tie is far from over.
Already it is time for Gerrard to muster some words of motivation.
New manager Gerrard (right) has a word with Portuguese winger Daniel Candeias (left) on the touchline
Liverpool loanee Oviemuno Ejaria points to the skies after coming on as a substitute to make his Rangers debut
Colombian forward Morelos has a shot on goal during a tightly-contested second half in Glasgow on Thursday night
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