European football returned to Ibrox Stadium on Thursday night with a full house seeing Rangers defeat FC Shkupi of Macedonia 2-0 courtesy of goals from Jamie Murphy and a late, late penalty from James Tavernier.
The two-goal lead – whilst not a result to put next week’s second leg in Skopje beyond all doubt – is nevertheless a healthy one to take in what will be Rangers’ first-ever visit to the former Yugoslavian Republic
The opener when it arrived fell to the home side, a lightning break down the right saw Josh Windass release Candeias who in turn fed Tavernier whose low cross found Murphy at the far post, his low shot finding the back of the net despite the efforts of Zendeli to block his effort.
The Ibrox men were using the full width of the park, attacking down both flanks to telling effect – and Murphy almost created an opening for Craig Flanagan following a run down the left, the full-back’s deflected shot from the edge of the area being clawed away by Zendeli.
Shkupi had clearly taken heart and confidence from the opening 45 minutes - and as the second-half unfolded they began to retain possession, dictating play to the crowd’s growing frustration.
Candeias had been yellow-carded early in the second-half for a foul on Ron Broja – and for that reason if no other he was substituted by Ryan Jack on 55 minutes.
Windass should have done better when he met a Tavernier cross nine minutes later – but his header skimmed the crossbar.
The pressure intensified as the minutes ticked away – although Morelo almost scored a critical second goal in the dying minutes with an angled drive from an Ejaria pass that Zendeli turned wide.
Just when it appeared that time had run out on a Rangers side who would have to be content with the one-goal lead that had proved so fragile twelve months ago in Luxembourg, there was one last drama to come when Murphy was upended by Amir Bilali in the box.
German Referee Christian Dingert did not hesitate Tavernier made no mistake from the spot.