On an evening when tension and nerves were threatening to get the better of Rangers, the introduction of a teenager helped ease the stress inside Ibrox as Steven Gerrard secured a palatable victory in his first competitive game as manager.
Gerrard’s decision to replace the lacklustre Josh Windass with 18-year-old Glenn Middleton in the closing stages of the first leg of the Europa League first qualifying round tie against Shkupi re-energised both his team and the increasingly anxious capacity crowd.
James Tavernier’s stoppage time penalty kick earned Rangers a 2-0 lead to take into next Tuesday’s second leg in Macedonia but it was the exciting contribution of precocious winger Middleton which was the biggest talking point among the home support as they made their way home on Thursday night. The former Norwich City youngster is revelling in the early opportunity Gerrard has given him to stake a claim for a regular place in the Rangers first-team squad for the season ahead and insists he feels no trepidation about the challenge he faces in order to do so.
“I don’t really fear much,” said Middleton. “Regardless of the score or even if I’ve not playing my best, I’ll still go at my man every single time because I’m confident in myself that I can always make that one chance for the team to hopefully get a goal.
“It was brilliant to make my competitive debut for Rangers. It was a really good result for the team in the end.
“Obviously it wasn’t the perfect performance but it’s a win and we take that into the next game and we go from there. I’ve only played 15 minutes of first-team football, so it’s not much but I just need to keep building from there, show the manager what I can do in training every day and if I get the opportunity in games, just take it from there and show what I’m capable of.
“It did surprise me to get called into the first-team squad so soon after the new manager came in. Not many people are sure what to expect when a new manager comes into a club. It’s just a case of trying to take your opportunity when it is given to you.
“It’s a big boost for anyone to be rated by Steven Gerrard. It means a lot to be given the faith and the chances he has given me so far. So hopefully I can keep showing what I’m capable of doing and get some more. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t confident I can get into the first team.
“It’s the same for all the young boys. We come in every day, show him what we can do and hopefully get our names on the team-sheet as soon as possible.
“It’s always nice to get some recognition but hopefully that’s just the start. It doesn’t mean much the next day, because you have to show everyone again what you can do.
“For the team, it was good to get the win on Thursday but the job is far from done. We have to get back to work on the training pitch, fix the things that maybe weren’t as good as they should have been, then go into next Tuesday and try to get into the next round.”