THE first round cut is the deepest.

Little over a year on from Rangers’ last outing at the maiden hurdle of Europa League qualifying, there would be few in the capacity-full Ibrox last night who would have needed reminding of the mental scars inflicted upon them by a so-called unknown minnow.

I say unknown, the name Progres Niederkorn will be forever seared into the consciousness of any of the poor souls who followed Rangers to Luxembourg this time last year on really what was the beginning of the end for Pedro Caixinha. A 1-0 win was garnered in the first leg in Glasgow, only for a 2-0 turnaround to cast a dark and unshakable cloud over the Portuguese’s reign.

Even with a host of new faces and the Steven Gerrard influence then, Rangers supporters would have turned up here in numbers filled with excitement but also a faint hint of trepidation at what would become of the night ahead with Macedonian outfit FC Shkupi looking for an upset.

As it transpired, there was no grey cloud. Instead, it was blue skies overhead on a balmy summer’s night as the Gerrard era – at least in a competitive arena – got underway with a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Jamie Murphy and James Tavernier.

It may not have been a complete performance from the Scottish side – you wouldn’t have expected more given this was only their second game in public since returning – but it was a committed one that would have filled their new manager with optimism that the fait which befell his predecessor in the first round return will not see him come unstuck next week.

While the game against Progres was played at a pedestrian pace, Gerrard’s outfit thundered forward here, creating enough chances to put the game to bed by half time. The intensity without the ball was palpable, how Josh Windass didn’t get at least two is a mystery, Murphy looked lively, Ross McCrorie sitting just in front the back four did the job and Allan McGregor didn’t have a save to make.

For all that good work, though, there was still enough to cause grumbles of discontent as the game slowly ebbed towards its conclusion. Rangers’ distribution from the back was at times iffy, Alfredo Morelos wasn’t quite at the races, while the shape of the team needs a bit of work to name just a few teething problems Gerrard will surely be working on in the days and weeks ahead.

Having said that, it’s clear there is much more to come from this Rangers team, who started with five new faces in a starting formation of a 4-1-4-1 with Morelos at the apex of the attack. Allan McGregor, Connor Goldson, Nikola Katic, Jon Flanagan and Scott Arfield all slotted in, with Liverpool loanee Oviemuno Ejaria on the bench.

Rangers started well with their first real chance coming on eight minutes. Daniel Candeias got the break of the ball on the right allowing him to fizz a low ball across the box. Shkupi keeper Suat Zendeli parried into the middle of his area, but with the Macedonians all at sea Murphy could only turn his effort wide.

For all Rangers’ long spells of possession, the visitors popped the ball about with style and confidence in flashes, particularly through the midfield and on the break. That was typified on 15 minutes when they took advantage of Tavernier going wandering to bomb down the right through Nchama Basilio Ndong Owono, who laid the ball off for Blagoja Ljamchevski at the edge of the area. The midfielder’s left foot shot was a sweet one as it curled over McGregor and off the top of the crossbar.

It was enough to cause a brief halt to the carnival atmosphere inside Ibrox, but only briefly because it was Murphy who broke the deadlock on 23 minutes.

Tavernier burst into the Shkupi half on the right before spraying the ball out to Murphy on the left just outside the opposition box. The winger shuffled the ball to his left, drove into the box and smashed a low shot at Zendeli, who was negligent to allow the ball to slip through his grasp and into the net.

From then on Rangers kicked on and should have extended their lead. Five minutes later Goldson’s header to the back post put the ball on a plate for Windass six yards out only for the keeper to save. Soon after Flanagan tried his luck from 25 yards, a nick on the way through forcing Zendeli into a flying save to his left. Goldson’s header from the resultant corner kick then dipping just by the far post.

There was still more time for Rangers to create more openings before the break with Morelos heading over eight yards out three minutes from half-time, Arfield also fluffed his lines from a similar position moments later.

In the second period it was much of the same as Windass went close. On 64 minutes he headed over from six yards when it looked easier to score. Soon after, he couldn’t connect with a fizzed ball along the six-yard line from substitute Ryan Jack.

The crowd grew more frustrated as the clock ticked down, memories of that 1-0 first leg win from last year no doubt creeping back in. However, their minds were eased on the 90th minute as Shkupi substitute Amir Bilali suffered a rush of blood to the head by needlessly bringing Jamie Murphy crumbling to the turf.

Referee Christian Dingert correctly pointed to the spot, and Tavernier coolly stepped up to smash his spot kick straight down the middle to restart the celebrations.