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Shot-shy Rangers have a hell of a lot of work to do, warns Gerrard

Shkupi 0-0 Rangers

By Ronnie Esplin

Rangers eased into the Europa League second qualifying round with a 2-0 aggregate win over Shkupi following a goalless draw in Macedonia.

Steven Gerrard's side took a two-goal advantage into the second leg and enjoyed a mostly comfortable 90 minutes at the Philip II Arena.

Rangers had more and better chances than their limited opponents and, although they failed to capitalise, they will simply be glad to get through to the next stage.

Gerrard admitted he has concerns about Rangers' shot-shy strike force.

"I'm a bit mixed right now," the former Liverpool captain said. "We're pleased with one side of the game but there is certainly a hell of a lot of work to do on the other side.

"Out of possession we were good, our shape was good. We were aggressive and I'm pleased with the clean sheet. I thought Allan McGregor and my two centre-backs (Connor Goldson and Nikola Katic) were outstanding."

The hosts rarely looked capable of troubling the Light Blues, but visiting goalkeeper Allan McGregor did have to produce a crucial stop late on to ensure Shkupi were not thrown a last-gasp glimmer of hope.

Rangers progressed to face either Petrocub of Moldova or Croatian side Osijek, but Gerrard accepted he has work to do to ensure his side are not left firing blanks once more.

He said: "I'm disappointed with us in possession for the first 30 minutes. I don't think we passed the ball well enough, and throughout the game there was a serious lack of quality in the final third."

Skipper James Tavernier's late penalty at Ibrox last Thursday had given his side some breathing space for the trip to Skopje, although in front of a sparse crowd the home side showed little indication that they could rescue the tie.

Indeed, amid some early Rangers attacks, Jamie Murphy almost steered in an Alfredo Morelos delivery from out wide, before he just missed a cross from the right by Tavernier.

However, Rangers found themselves having to survive a brief spell of pressure from Shkupi, during which goalkeeper Allan McGregor had to make saves from Blazhe Ilijoski and Kristijan Stojkovski.

Gers - with midfielder Ryan Jack in for the injured Scott Arfield - responded, and in the 24th minute a driving run by Josh Windass ended with Shkupi keeper and captain Suat Zendeli pushing his shot to safety.

As the Light Blues regained control towards the end of the half, Morelos failed to control a Tavernier cross inside the box and another chance was gone.

There were more encouraging signs from the visitors at the start of the second half.

Another powerful right-footed drive from Windass drew a good save from Zendeli, with Morelos adjudged offside from the rebound.

18-year-old winger Glenn Middleton replaced Windass soon afterwards and, as Rangers appeared to strengthen their grip on the tie, Zendeli punched away a Tavernier free-kick from 25 yards.

Rangers were mostly in control in the final stages, although with two minutes remaining only a fine stop from McGregor to thwart the onrushing Muarem Muarem ensured there would be no nervy ending.

Belfast Telegraph

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