RANGERS will travel to Osijek or Petrocub in their next Europa League qualifier following a professional performance against Shkupi this evening.
Steven Gerrard’s side controlled the game almost from start to finish, and thoroughly merit their progression to the next stage of the competition.
The opening minutes saw the Light Blues take control, stroking the ball about confidently on the decent pitch at the Arena Philip II.
Indeed, inside the first minute, a Jamie Murphy header from a Daniel Candeias corner kick was gathered by Zendeli as Gerrard’s men threatened an early opener.
Shkupi, chasing the game, were always likely to create more than they did at Ibrox on Thursday, and a snapshot for Ron Broja from 25-yards was well-taken by Allan McGregor.
Although not played at the quickest pace, which was perhaps understandable given the humidity in Skopje, it was end-to-end stuff, and after Toni Tipuric’s last ditch clearance prevented a tap-in for Jamie Murphy following some smart work from Alfredo Morelos, McGregor was forced into a fine stop from Baze Illijoski who let fly from distance.
Playing a pretty high defensive line, Shkupi always looked vulnerable to a ball in-behind, and Murphy provided one for Josh Windass to run on to, although Zendeli was out quickly to deny the Englishman.
Another Englishman – James Tavernier – was beginning to cause some real problems on the right, and after one of his crosses was inches away from being connected to by both Murphy and Morelos, another was then flicked away at the last possible moment by Tipuric as Morelos stooped low to head what looked a certain goal.
Into the second half, and Windass was lively again, beating Ermedin Adem out on the right wing before cutting in and stinging the palms of Zendeli with a wicked shot.
The Light Blues remained in impressive control of the match, confidently playing the ball around and constantly looking for that little opening to at last kill the tie.
Windass’ last action of the game before being replaced by Glenn Middleton was to smack a free-kick on the outside of the ‘D’ into a well-marshalled Shkupi wall.
Another free-kick from a little further out was taken by Tavernier, and while this time it beat the wall, it couldn’t beat Zendeli who was at full-stretch to his left to push the ball clear.
As the minutes ticked down, Gerrard’s next move from his bench was to replace the hardworking Daniel Candeias with Ovie Ejaria.
And Ejaria almost had an immediate impact, spraying a beautiful ball through the defence for Middleton, although from an angle, he could find only the side netting.
Tavernier was to have another free-kick deflected over the bar by the home wall inside the final 10-minutes, where Gers continued to be ever-so comfortable despite the need for Shkupi to chase the game.
That was until the 88nd minute, as for the first time in the second half, McGregor was called into action. Muarem Muarem managed to get away from James Tavernier down the Shkupi left before cutting inside and having his shot blocked by the outstretched foot of McGregor.
It was a rare moment of concern for Gerrard’s men, but overall this was an extremely comfortable evening for them and a job well done.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan, McCrorie, Jack, Candeias (Ejaria, 72), Murphy, Windass (Middleton, 61), Morelos.
SUBS NOT USED: Alnwick, Halliday, Docherty, Rudden, Bradley.
SHKUPI: Zendeli, Tipuric, Bilali, Muarem (Ismaili, 90) (Shabani, 37), Broja, Nchama, Krivanjeva, Illijoski, Vujcic (Muharem, 76), Stojkovski, Adem.
SUBS NOT USED: Aleksovski, Bajrami, Ljamcevski, Veliu, .
REFEREE: Halil Umut Meler