The past, present and future were all in the swirl of Ibrox on Saturday. Rangers full-back James Tavernier could be linked to all three.
As the Govan ground bore witness to lower league football surely for the last time as Mark Warburton’s men received the silverware reward for a Championship won with elan, Tavernier scored to place himself in the company of the club’s most lauded figure John Greig. Then there was the fact that, apart from the 15th goal of the season by the Rangers rampaging left-sided defender, there wasn’t much to recommend about a display, unfairly perhaps, placed in the context of the forthcoming Scottish Cup final.
In beating Celtic and Dundee en route to the decider, and being under the charge of Warburton, whose admirable sense and sensibility always shines through as he looks ahead, next season is a fascinating prospect for Rangers and their followers.
The only issue ahead of them ending their two years in the Championship with tomorrow’s trip to Livingston and then the jaunt to St Mirren on Saturday is that they won’t have a competitive game in the three weeks before facing Hibernian at Hampden. Set against that, the Easter Road men will hope to have many in that period, owing to their desire to go all the way in the Premiership play-offs that the cup final could sandwich.
Tavernier, though, might be entitled to be little fussed about a lay-off. He has started every game for the club this season and with a remarkable scoring contribution of 15 goals has been accorded the curious record of most goals by a Rangers defender in a season. He is one of the few in the lineage covering all incarnations to have been able to bulge nets against second-tier opponents, but never mind.
Warburton’s keen eye for a player is reflected in the service he has derived from Tavernier, who had been scuffing around on loan for years before he was acquired from Wigan last summer. A first-class attitude as well as an impressive on-field drive. That was shown in the fact he was two yards out in the centre of goal just before half-time to head in a cross by Andy Halliday, who had earlier missed a penalty. It was a goal which a lacklustre Rangers required to equalise after an admirable Alloa – dogged and determined despite being destined for the drop – had taken the lead through a fine edge-of-the-area angled drive by Michael Duffy in eight minutes.
Many in home colours looked a little weary. Understandable, Warburton accepted, after a fortnight when the league had been won, the Petrofac Training Cup claimed and, most notably, Celtic ousted from the Scottish Cup. Tavernier’s enthusiasm for the game burned bright both on the pitch and afterwards as he digested the month ahead, and the nine he has spent in Glasgow.
“I love playing football,” he said. “As soon as the season breaks up I can’t wait to get back into pre-season. I think we’ll be getting three and a half weeks this year, but sometimes it can be six or seven weeks and I’m twiddling my thumbs and playing five-a-sides with my mates, all guys who play at Newcastle. I just love football and I can’t wait to get next season started.
“We’re going to have plenty of rest before the final and we can train hard, so it’s going to be perfect, we’re not going to be stung with a lot of games leading up to the final. When it comes we’ll be hungry to play again at Hampden – it’s a final and a chance for Europe.”
In the context of Europe, it is easy to forget that Tavernier was tipped for big things as a youngster coming through the ranks at Newcastle. He has already played in the Europa League, featuring for the St James’ Park club in the 2012-13 competition against Bruges, Bordeaux and Greek side Artimos. “It’s a different environment, you travel to hotter countries and colder countries who play a different style of football so you learn a lot and that’s what all the boys are aiming for,” he said. “We’ve done really well this season. We’ve completed two of our three objectives and if we could get into Europe that would be a massive bonus.”
Greig and Tavernier enjoyed some badinage on Saturday about the 25-year-old’s scoring feats, with the former captain and manager giving out the medals as an exile from the Craig Whyte and Charles Green eras who has been welcomed home since Dave King’s takeover in March last year.
Tavernier said: “I gave him a bit of stick before the game and told him, ‘I’m coming for your record’. He responded by giving me stick about my penalty [shoot-out miss] against Celtic and I took it on the chin. I spoke to him afterwards and he gave me a handshake and congratulated me. I’ve had chats with him every time we’ve had a game and he’s someone you really want to listen to because he has so much experience and is one of the main men here. Everything he says I take into account and it helps me in my game.”
Greig would no doubt tell him and any others at Rangers that making a true mark at the club requires the annexing of major honours.