It would be easy for James Tavernier to finger-point in all directions about last week’s loss to Hibernian that heaps the pressure on him and his Rangers team-mates going into their hosting of Hearts this afternoon.
To his credit, though, the 25-year-old full-back believes lessons must be heeded at Ibrox – and not just about how to deal with poor refereeing calls or physical opponents.
Those two aspects were encapsulated in Anthony Stokes wrestling Tavernier to the ground only five minutes into the 3-2 victory for Neil Lennon’s side. Stokes could have seen red then.
However, with the tone set for an intemperate encounter, he stayed on to square up with Ryan Jack that brought a (now rescinded) red card for the Rangers midfielder minutes before Tavernier scored an own goal to put the Leith club in front and on their way to claiming the three points.
The Ibrox right-back believes last week demonstrated that greater composure and defensive conviction is required from his team as well as better decisions from officialdom. Yet, even if it has followed a mortifying European exit in this summer of wholesale team changes by Pedro Caixinha, Tavernier sees the reverse as a “bump” in the road and not a veering from the path he is certain that Rangers are on towards improved competitiveness in the top flight.
“Listen, it [the red card] is one of those things that can happen in a game of football and it has cost us a little bit. You can’t dwell on these things, the game has gone,” he said. “We were disappointed with some of the decisions that were made but we have to move on.
“I’m not sure what happened with Stokesy to be honest. It maybe looked worse than it actually was. The referee calls it, he controls what happens on the pitch. The referee said we’d brought a crowd of players around us and he had no choice but to book us. It was disappointing but we have to focus on the next game.
“The goals we lost were also disappointing. We should have been marking better, I think it was more individual mistakes than anything else. We need to learn from it, that is clear. It’s a new team and we were disappointed to lose out in the Europa League – since then we’ve looked really solid. We have to rectify what happened against Hibs against Hearts this weekend.
“We knew the Hibs game was going to be aggressive because of what happened the last time we met in the Scottish Cup final and everything that went on. We knew it was going to be a tasty game. It was just one of those ones when you can get caught up in the madness.
“You have to be switched on, level headed and know when to control the situation. Our tempers went higher than they should have. When I got fouled I lost my head a little bit. We have a good group of lads and we have just got to appreciate that teams are going to try and unsettle us. We have just got to keep level headed.”
Hearts have players that will seek to test home temperaments this afternoon, with former Rangers striker Kyle Lafferty’s game built on that.
“We had that last season. Every team tried to do the same. We always expected them to try and ruffle us up and make it really hard for us. We don’t expect anything less than that,” added Tavernier.
“It will be a tough game against Hearts. They will try the rough game. Lafferty is a big, tall target man, so they have got different ways they can get up the pitch. But we’ve got Bruno [Alves] at the back and really good progressive players who can deal with those situations.”
Tavernier is likely to be the only outfield player signed by Caixinha’s predecessor Mark Warburton in the Ibrox ranks today. Yesterday yet one more Warburton recruit was moved out of the club, with Harry Forrester loaned out to AFC Wimbledon for the season.
Tavernier believes it is important to put distance between Warburton’s team and the current side in another crucial respect. “Last season, we got in good positions at the start of games and even throughout the games and we weren’t clinical and ruthless about putting the ball in the net,” said Tavernier. “We have started off games well this season and are scoring early, but it is that ruthlessness that we need.”