PEDRO Caixinha’s second season as Rangers manager got off to a catastrophic start around this time last year in Europa League qualifying.

The humiliating defeat the Ibrox club suffered to Luxembourgian part-timers Progres Nie-derkorn was one of the worst, arguably the very worst, in their entire history.

Yet, Caixinha’s successor Steven Gerrard is in no danger whatsoever of suffering a similar fate against Macedonian minnows Shkupi in the coming fortnight.

That was the confident forecast from the first manager to square up to the Liverpool and England great’s new-look Gers side in a match.

Scott Ruscoe watched The New Saints lose 3-1 to their opponents in a pre-season friendly in the sunshine at the Hummel Training Centre in Milngavie yesterday.

The encounter was a closed-doors game that was watched by only a handful of Rangers and New Saints players and coaching staff.

However, Ruscoe revealed that he had been impressed by how the host team, who fielded two different outfield teams in each half, had performed and tipped them to stroll past Shkupi.

The 40-year-old is also confident they will be able to push Celtic, who have lifted the last sev-en Scottish titles and are bidding to win a record-breaking 10 consecutive top flight trophies, all the way in the league in the near future.

“We play the Macedonian champions, Shkendija, in the Champions League while Rangers have got the team which finished fourth in that country, Shkupi, in the Europa League,” he said.

“I feel they will go through quite comfortably. I am sure that Steven will want his side to work hard, play free-flowing football and push Celtic all the way in the league.

“That might not happen this year, but that will his aim going forward and it is certainly where they look like they are going to go on the evidence of yesterday’s game.”

Rangers will play their first competitive fixture under Liverpool and England legend Gerrard next Thursday evening when they host Shkupi in the first leg of the Europa League at Ibrox.

It will, despite the funds the new manager has had to spend on players during the close sea-son, not be straightforward progressing as the embarrassing loss to Progres underlines.

No fewer than seven new players have arrived in Govan in the summer – Scott Arfield, Ovie Ejaria, Jon Flanagan, Connor Goldson, Nikola Katic, Allan McGregor and Jamie Murphy.

Rangers only have one more pre-season game, against English League Two club Bury at Ibrox on Friday evening, before they square have to meet Shkupi.

Ruscoe, who took over at the New Saints a year ago and led them to their seventh consecutive Welsh league title in his first season in charge, was pleased to be able to help Gerrard get ready.

“In the past few years we have come up to Scotland and played against the likes of Aberdeen, Hearts and St Johnstone,” he said.

“They are preparing for Europe at the same time as us so we get in touch with them to see if they are interested in playing a friendly.

“We played against Rangers last year. We drew 1-1 against Rangers last season when Pedro Caixinha was the manager.

“This year we lost 3-1, but it was still a worthwhile exercise for everyone involved. I am sure it will help us in Champions League qualifying and Rangers in the Europa League too.”

Ruscoe is a lifelong Liverpool supporter and lists a meeting with the then Champions League holders during qualifying back in 2005 as one of the highlights of his career.

That is even though Gerrard, who had captained the Anfield club to an epic win over AC Mi-lan in the final Istanbul a couple of months earlier, scored five goals in a 6-0 aggregate victo-ry.

The appointment of the former midfielder at Rangers back in May raised some eyebrows as he was just 37 at the time and had only ever coached at youth level at the Anfield club.

But the New Saints manager believes Gerrard and his assistant Gary McAllister will prove their doubters wrong and help the Ibrox outfit to challenge for major honours in Scotland once again given time.

“I spoke to both Steven and Gary before the game about what they had been up to and their forthcoming fixture in the Europa League because obviously they are going to the same country we are,” he said.

“I am a Liverpool fan. One of the greatest moments of my playing days was when I faced against Liverpool with The New Saints in the Champions League in 2006.

Gary and Steven are two of the midfield greats and it was fantastic to be a part of a game they were involved in. They are decent people as well as great players. Everyone in the game knows them and likes them.

“I went to see Liverpool play a few times last season along with my son which is also a sup-porter now. To meet Steven Gerrard again was excellent. He was first class with us all.

“Hopefully he can bridge the gap with Celtic and get Rangers competing back at the top of the league.”