The long walk from the corner tunnel at Pittodrie to his technical area this afternoon will be a welcome to Scottish football for Rangers manager Steven Gerrard that will leave him in no doubt as to the intensity of the Aberdeen support’s antipathy to the Ibrox club.
Even a short walk to take a throw-in does that, though. As no-one needs to tell Rangers captain James Tavernier. The 26-year-old has run that gauntlet many times in the past two years. It is not for the faint-hearted, he concedes.
“You do get stick up there and their fans are close…” said the Englishman, who acknowledged the decent record that sees his team unbeaten in their past three visits to this northern outpost. “Pittodrie and Tynecastle are the two grounds we play on where you really notice being near to the crowd. Can I hear everything they say to me? When I’m playing I block everything out to focus on the game but when I’m taking a throw-in, yes.
“You don’t really want to entertain it and of course you know that if you react you get punished. It is just opposition fans, though, and I actually enjoy it. I say that because I can thrive off some of the stuff which is shouted at me during a game.
“It makes you push yourself even harder because when you win up there our fans are singing while their fans are silent. The best feeling is to walk off the park having taken three points and a win, then going up to your own fans and celebrating. There is nothing better.
“And for this one I know the fans will take nothing less than a win because I do get stopped by supporters in the street in the run-up to the Aberdeen games. I know all about the feelings, the rivalry and I would put it just below the Celtic games. So we have to win this one for them and for the gaffer too.”
Rangers fans have probably been stopping Tavernier in the street to tell him that the top-flight opener at Aberdeen must only be the building block to a genuine title challenge for eight-in-a-row chasing Celtic. A team that Derek McInnes’s team have ran closest in the two Premiership campaigns that the Ibrox side have contested.
The Rangers faithful have been emboldened to expect the complexion of this season to be different. That is down to the arrival of Gerrard, his immediate and extensive overhaul of the squad and the subsequent efficient manner – especially in respect of their defensive responsibilities – this new-look team has won through two testing rounds of continental competition to earn a third-round Europa League qualifier against Maribor, who will be hosted in Thursday’s first leg.
“Time will tell,” Tavernier offered up when asked how strong he expected Rangers to be across the next ten months. “But from what I have seen, I’m really excited for the season because we have real strength and depth, plus the manager and everything that has come with him. There are exciting times ahead.”
Difficult times too. The first month of the season has wrecked any optimism for what the league campaign might bring for Rangers in each of the past two seasons. With trips to Pittodrie, Rugby Park, Slovenia, Fir Park and Celtic Park in the coming five weeks, the credentials of Gerrard’s side will be tested to the maximum in a minimal period. That pours even more into the mix for today’s game, which will see Aberdeen have to regroup following their mammoth extra-time, and ultimately fruitless, efforts at Burnley in their Europa League qualifier on Thursday evening.
You always want to set the tone right from the first game,” Tavernier said. “I still remember that 1-1 draw against Hamilton at Ibrox at the start of the season two years ago, it always stayed in the back of my mind. It wasn’t the result or performance our fans want to see. It wasn’t what we wanted to see either. We have look to avoid that this time. We cannot afford to drop any points at Aberdeen. We need to get off to a great start, get three points, and then we can push on to the season.”