RANGERS will take a two-goal lead to Macedonia on Tuesday as Steven Gerrard’s first competitive game in charge ended in victory.
Goals in either half from Jamie Murphy and then a James Tavernier penalty in injury time mean the Light Blues have a two-goal cushion to take to Skopje on Tuesday.
With every seat in the house taken up by a Gers fan, the atmosphere at kick-off was deafening, and the Light Blues made a decent start with that support firmly behind them.
The first chance of the game fell the way of Jamie Murphy, who, under pressure, poked a parry from goalkeeper Suat Zendeli just wide under some close Shkupi scrutiny.
Zendeli then had to be alert to grasp a Daniel Candeias cross at the last possible instant before it could reach Alfredo Morelos and a certain tap-in for the Colombian.
The Macedonians were offering next to nothing, but they showed they weren’t just here to make up the numbers, as on their first break, Nchama Owono found Blagoja Ljamchevski who hit the top of the bar with a wicked effort from 25-yards out.
It was a warning for Gers for sure, and from there Shkupi began to enjoy a little more of the ball without really threatening Allan McGregor.
However, in the 23rd minute, Ibrox got the chance to celebrate the first official goal of the Steven Gerrard era thanks to Jamie Murphy.
After doing well to win the ball just shy of halfway, James Tavernier played a neat one-two with Daniel Candeias before the new skipper charged forward down the right wing.
He spotted the run of Murphy coming in from the opposite flank, and found him with a perfect pass into his path just outside the box. Murphy still had work to do, but he jinked majestically into the penalty area and drove a fearsome shot at goal. It was too hot for Zendeli to handle, and it looped up and over the goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
The goal came at a great time for Gerrard’s men given Shkupi’s increasing dominance, and perhaps Murphy’s celebration in the corner between the Broomloan and West Enclosure was tinged too with a little relief.
It certainly put Gers back in full control of the match, and they created and missed a number of decent opportunities to extend their lead.
Twice Josh Windass was denied by Zendeli diving low to his left to push away headed efforts while the keeper also acrobatically dived the same way to push clear a deflected Jon Flanagan strike.
The second half began with Shkupi on the front foot, and while McGregor again remained untested, Muarem Muarem’s glanced header at the front post from a corner found the side netting.
At the other end, a terrific Tavernier cross was headed just over by Josh Windass in the six-yard box while seconds later,Windass was inches away from connecting with a Murphy cut-back.
Shkupi were continuing to frustrate the Light Blues, and in order to try and find a second goal Gerrard sent on Ryan Jack as well as Ovie Ejaria and Glenn Middleton for competitive debuts.
Middleton in particular added some impetus to Gers going forward and also gave the Ibrox crowd a lift for what remained of the game.
Morelos forced Zendeli in to a decent stop at his near post with a fierce effort from an angle, before in the 90th minute, Jamie Murphy was brought down inside the area for a clear penalty kick.
Up stepped captain Tavernier to take, and he blasted it out of reach of Zendeli to at last give the Light Blues the cushion they craved.
There was a further chance for Murphy deep in stoppage time as he got on the end of an Ejaria cut-back, but Zendeli was there to clutch the ball and prevent any further scoring.
RANGERS: McGregor, Tavernier, Goldson, Katic, Flanagan, McCrorie, Arfield (Ejaria, 67), Candeias (Jack 56), Murphy, Windass (Middleton, 79) Morelos.
SUBS: Alnwick, John, Halliday, Docherty, .
SHKUPI: Zendeli, Tipuric, Bajrami (Bilali, 45), Ljamchevski (Shabani, 60), Muarem, Broja, Owono (Krivanjeva, 90), Ilijoski, Vujcic, Stojkoski, Adem.
SUBS: Aleksovski, Veliu, Ismaili.
REFEREE: Christian Dingert (Germany)