WHEN it comes to the early rounds in Europe, it is about mentality as much as ability. If you don’t get your mindset right, you can end up on the end of a shock.

Rangers know better than most the pitfalls of the Europa League given what happened last season against Progres Niederkorn but I can’t see a repeat over the two legs with FK Shkupi.

If you look at the friendly with Bury on Friday night, when you have got better players you need to dominate possession and not let the opposition play. That is what we did last week, and what I think we will do on Thursday.

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The first leg being at Ibrox is important and hopefully the team will turn in a good performance and win by a few goals to ease any nerves ahead of the trip to Macedonia.

Rangers should be fitter, faster, stronger and they have more ability so I don’t see an upset this time around.

Steven Gerrard has brought a new mindset to the squad and you can tell by the way the boys are talking, and the signs in the Bury game, that he has got through to them.

As long as the mindset is right, there won’t be any problems. The fans will turn out, Ibrox will be bouncing and it should be an enjoyable night for everybody.

If you think back 12 months, Rangers didn’t look fit, they didn’t look organised and they didn’t look confident. Now, all of that is different about the squad.

I think there is a real pride amongst them about being a Rangers player and the manager has brought that to the fore in such a short space of time.

Now he must ensure there isn’t a repeat of the Progres debacle and that he doesn’t end up on the back foot right at the start of his managerial career.

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It was a big moment for Rangers to get back into European competition last season but we didn’t make the most of the opportunity and that can’t happen again.

Steven and the players won’t be looking too far ahead and they won’t be underestimating any team they face. They will just take the ties as they come.

They will be confident they can get through the first round but there won’t be a complacency there.

The bar has been raised in terms of standards so there has got to be a level of performance to match the expectation of the coaching staff.

The fans have certainly bought into Steven Gerrard, a crowd of 41,000 against Bury tells you that, but they have to deliver in competitive matches now and performing in front of what will be another big crowd on Thursday.

Right now, there is no point in setting targets or looking too far into the future when it comes to the Europa League.

You hope that the draw is kind to you and you just focus on the games as they come up. If we have eight qualifiers to play and can get to the group stages, great.

It is doable to get through four ties but you will need a bit of luck along the way, especially as Rangers aren’t even seeded for the second qualifying round.

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It will take time for the new players to be integrated into the team and really get up to speed but that is something Rangers don’t have when the games are coming thick and fast in the qualifiers.

There is no reason why Rangers can’t hit the ground running, though, and Steven will be looking to build a bit of momentum ahead of the Premiership campaign.

It will be a hard start to the season with the away games at Aberdeen, Motherwell and Celtic in the first few weeks and you don’t want to be going into that run on the back of a painful European defeat.

The Europa League is important, of course it is, but the league is what it is all about for Rangers and that is when the team need to be at their best.

It has been a while since we have had a run in Europe. It will be difficult this season but Steven won’t just be turning up and thinking ‘let’s just see what happens’.

He will want to go as far as possible and that will be the demands that he will put on the players. The players have to expect to get through the rounds and that is part of the new mindset at the club this season.

It is an exciting time for everyone at Rangers and the fact that 41,000 turned out on Friday night, and even more will be there on Thursday, shows that.

The players that were there last season let themselves down but their performance levels can still be raised for this season. That is down to the manager raising the bar.

I can’t wait for the European ties to start and for the league to start. Now, Rangers are really getting down to business under Steven Gerrard.