Ten-man Rangers avoided a sobering draw at home to Alashkert as Alfredo Morelos’ strike kept them on course for the Europa League group stage.
The last time the Armenian champions visited Glasgow in 2018, they were beaten 3-0 by a Celtic side who played 79 minutes with a man short.
This time, Rangers had John Lundstram sent off just before the break.
But Morelos’ second goal in European competition this season means they take a narrow advantage to Yerevan.
Having lost home and away to Malmo in Champions League qualifying, and to Dundee United in the Scottish Premiership, the momentum expected from last season’s first league title in 10 years was in danger of being squandered.
However, Morelos’ reliability on the continental stage puts them within touching distance of the Europa League group stage for the fourth season running rather than the less lucrative new Conference League.
Both sides not only went into the game having already parachuted down from Champions League qualifying defeats but on the back of losses in the defence of their domestic league titles.
Despite Friday’s 5-0 Scottish League Cup thumping of Dunfermline Athletic, Rangers manager Steven Gerrard returned most of his first choices to the fray.
It was Rangers who created the early chances, with Ianis Hagi firing wide and Ryan Kent’s shot clipping the crossbar.
However, fellow midfielder Lundstram was sent off just before the break for his second yellow card within the space of 10 minutes.
It could have swung the momentum in favour of the side who needed an extra-time goal to dispose of Wales’ Connah’s Quay Nomads in Champions League qualifying.
Instead, the half-time introduction of Scott Wright in place of Kent brought Morelos more into the play and the Colombian had an overhead kick cleared from in front of goal and then sent a header just wide.
When captain James Tavernier’s ball over the top of the visiting defence put Morelos in the clear, it was third time lucky for the striker.
With Alashkert failing to muster an attempt on target despite their man advantage, Rangers should head into Thursday’s return leg confident of progress.
The importance of record European scorer Morelos is once again evident and his winner at Ibrox should have tipped the balance against a side whose only two wins in five home games this season have come in extra time.
What they said
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard: “We’re in competitions and we’re at a club where you can’t afford to be where we are right now. We need to find our level and we need to wake up right now.
“The players listened to what I had to say at half-time and we got a reaction and we went on to win the game, but we should have made this game so much more comfortable than we have.”
Rangers travel to face struggling Ross County in the Scottish Premiership on Sunday (15:00 BST) .
- 10DavisBooked at 84mins
- 4LundstramBooked at 43mins
- 17AriboSubstituted forArfieldat 81′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 7HagiSubstituted forKellyat 90+5′minutes
- 20MorelosSubstituted forIttenat 83′minutes
- 14KentSubstituted forWrightat 45′minutes
- 2Coelho Andrade
- 33BoljevicBooked at 16mins
- 27KhurtsidzeSubstituted forGlisicat 80′minutes
- 88Santos das NevesBooked at 73minsSubstituted forYedigaryanat 75′minutes
- 70PapikyanSubstituted forGomeat 8′minutesBooked at 59minsSubstituted forBezecourtat 75′minutes
- 20Djialo Embalo
- Anastasios Sidiropoulos