When the right-back thinks of his experiences against Celtic, there has to be the odd shudder. As well as some welcome reveries. It could be no other way when the imminent Ibrox meeting of Scotland’s two biggest footballing tribes will mark his 28th appearance in the fixture. And 17 of these have brought defeats – five goals conceded on three of these occasions, with two 4-0s, the scoreline when the sides last met in September.
Of course, there have been some highs. Courtesy of eight successes. Indeed, in his first taste, he helped a then Championship Rangers come out on top in the first ever penalty shoot-out between the teams, how they prevailed in the 2016 Scottish Cup semi-final. And he was one of Rangers most influential performers as a 12-game winless streak in the confrontation gave way to a seven-game run without loss. Across which the title was claimed without losing a league game in 2020-21.
In short, he has experienced it all. Tavernier acknowledges immersion in the derby can take its toll. “It probably hurt more in the early days because the results weren’t there for a long period of time,” he said. “Then as the squad got stronger and stronger and we felt that we could get the results. It was obviously better but you never like losing, no matter what. We have to come into Monday full of confidence, which we are, and start with a clean sheet. We have to be solid defensively and set the tempo.”
The 31-year-old, who joined Rangers in a £200,000 deal from Wigan in July 2015, now copes better with the intensity. “Especially in the first few games, you hear all the noise around the game and you don’t really know what to expect, so you build it up as the absolute biggest game,” Tavernier said. “If you lose you feel like you are going to die. It is one of those you never want to lose regardless. It’s something that I’ve been able to control over the years. You definitely have to manage the emotions. They can affect a lot of it because tactics can go out the window. More or less, tactics go out the window when the game starts. It becomes about who can put their stamp on the game – the first headers, tackles. It’s about being controlled, not relaxed, with the way you are playing.”
Michael Beale’s team now need to turn the tide against a Celtic that are running away with the championship just as the Englishman helped do as coaching fulcrum in the Steven Gerrard regime. Despite the nine-point gap between the ancient adversaries, Tavernier looks to the recent past for why that can happen. “Six or seven months ago we were in a European final and we have only lost a few players out of that squad. We have more players in the squad so we know the heights that we can get to. Recently we have shown a real grit and determination to get the wins that we needed. We have shown different ways of winning and that is really pleasing to see – that we have got that real grit that we showed when we won the league. That season we showed different ways of winning and we have got that back in our play. It is good to see. We have got to take every ounce of experience into a game like this and apply it.”