Not for the first time since he moved to Scottish football, James Tavernier’s defensive abilities were called into serious question when he was the fall guy for Rangers in their 2-0 defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle ten days ago.
Tavernier accepts he was culpable for both of the goals scored by Robbie Muirhead that evening, errors which led to him being dropped to the bench for Rangers’ next match against Aberdeen at Ibrox last Saturday.
With Lee Hodson excelling as his replacement in that match, the Northern Ireland international looking far more defensively sound and also scoring the decisive goal in Rangers’ 2-1 win for good measure, Tavernier faces a real battle to regain the right-back role in Mark Warburton’s side.
But while there are many observers who feel the 25-year-old former Newcastle United and Wigan player would be better deployed in an advanced midfield position – one which he filled effectively as a second-half substitute against Aberdeen – Tavernier himself insists his future remains at right-back.
To that end, he is determined to recover from his horror show at Tynecastle and use the challenge posed by Hodson’s arrival this season as motivation to re-establish himself as first pick right-back.
“I’ve played in midfield at other clubs and I’m a player who can play in quite a lot of positions,” said Tavernier. “I feel comfortable when I’m higher up the pitch. But, as I see it, if I want to try and reach the best of my game, I see that being at right-back. I’d like to think I’ve got all the attributes to play at right-back. But when you are going into different positions of maybe like a right winger or a centre midfielder, you have got to be up there with the Eden Hazards if you want to be the best in the world. So going forward in my career, I probably think right-back is my best position.
“I was gutted by what happened at Tynecastle, that’s an understatement. To lose the way we did, I hold my hands up for both goals and it was something that hit home hard. I’ve looked over it and learned from it and it is only going to make me a better player.
“I was especially disappointed with the second goal. I’ve gone into midfield to close one of their players down, then the guy has run from the left-back position into the space. I should have just defended the ‘maybe’ situation and that goal would definitely have been cut out.
“The first one was a cross into the back post, so there are definitely things I can learn from. You have to make mistakes to learn from certain situations, so that’s only going to make me better in the future.
“I’m always really tough on myself after I’ve had a bad game. The two days after that game were really tough and it’s something you just need to get your head around.
“I watched the game again when I got home. I normally go to bed late after a midweek game, in the early hours of the morning, because I have so much adrenaline still running around.
“So I watch it to see what the good things and bad things were from it. That was obviously a hard one to watch because of the two mistakes which took everything else away from the game for us. Mentally, you have to get yourself in a better place after a couple of days. That’s what I’ve done. I’m back to my normal self now.
“I was devastated not to start the game against Aberdeen last Saturday but it gives you a kick up the backside and makes you work harder. It’s down to the gaffer’s decision and I respect that. It only makes you perform better, so it was something that I needed. Lee had a great game, so it’s better competition which will make me work harder.
“Sometimes when the team is not playing well, you can drop into a frame of mind of not playing well yourself. But you have to be playing the best you can all the time. I try and do that, but sometimes mistakes happen if you are not fully concentrated. So maybe it was a good time to get Lee in and it paid off.
“That’s what we have said from the start, we’ve got to have competition in the team to push you on. Last season we didn’t have that in the squad and you could maybe go on a few games and be comfortable that no one was going to take your position. But you’ve got to have that competition and I’ve got it now with Lee, so I just need to try and work harder to try and get my place back. The manager just wants me to have a positive attitude to his decision. I’ve worked hard this week and I’ve just got to see what happens on Saturday.”
Tavernier hopes for an immediate chance of redemption against Hearts who visit Ibrox this afternoon in another significant fixture in the battle for second place in the Premiership.
“You always have a point to prove against any team you have dropped points against or not played well against in the previous meeting,” he added.
“They are coming to our place now, so we definitely have a point to prove to our fans that we can beat Hearts. We know we didn’t play well at Tynecastle. It wasn’t like when we played Aberdeen at Pittodrie earlier in the season and we didn’t feel we got the result we deserved. But we have beaten Aberdeen at home and now we’ve got Hearts on our own pitch. At Tynecastle, they used a different gameplan and it worked for them. They pressed us on a smaller pitch. We’re going to have to be better on Saturday, but we have got a great record at home and hopefully we can use that.”