James Tavernier sets sights on matching Ally McCoist exploits after Rangers legend's snub

Free-scoring Ibrox captain has McCoist goal tally in his sights ahead of Benfica tie
Rangers captain James Tavernier during a training session ahead of facing Benfica in the Europa League last 16. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)Rangers captain James Tavernier during a training session ahead of facing Benfica in the Europa League last 16. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Rangers captain James Tavernier during a training session ahead of facing Benfica in the Europa League last 16. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The Ibrox annals are flooded with masterful goalscorers. Illustration recently arrived by way of a thankless assignment handed to Ally McCoist.

The striker legend was invited to pick his greatest-ever Rangers XI by broadcaster TNT Sports. While he did admit that, if you asked him tomorrow, he might come up with a different team, his selection was notable for those he left out as well as who made the cut.

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Take up front for example, where he didn't pick himself. Derek Johnstone was his preferred centre-forward, something few could argue with. But it did mean leaving out the likes of Jim Forrest, Michael Mols and most conspicuously of all, his old Ibrox strike partner Mark Hateley.

How Rangers could do with all or indeed any of them against Benfica this evening in the second leg of a Europa League last 16 tie that is delicately poised at 2-2.

Forrest was to the fore the last but one time Benfica played at Ibrox in 1965, when the visitors – who had been crowned European champions twice in the previous five years – were beaten 3-1 in what was described as a "floodlight friendly".

Benfica were en route to play a European tie in Luxembourg. Rangers, by contrast, were grounded – they had failed to qualify for Europe having finished fifth the previous season. Scot Symon's side gave the Portuguese team some notice of their intent to re-establish themselves on the European stage, which they did the following season by reaching the final of the European Cup-Winners'-Cup.

“They (Benfica) would have preferred, and maybe expected, a calmer game,” noted John Rafferty in The Scotsman. Forrest scored twice in the final minutes to hand Rangers a 3-1 victory but these non-competitive strikes were not included in his final tally of 145 goals in 163 appearances, including six goals in seven European games in season 1964-65.

Rangers’ European annex has been built on a grand tradition of strikers. The likes of Ralph Brand, Alex Scott and Jimmy Millar feature in the standings, so too the more recent addition of Jorge Albertz – more a ‘striking’ midfielder – and Nacho Novo.

Out in front on 29 European goals is Alfredo Morelos, whose goals helped take Rangers to the Europa League final in 2021/22. And then there’s McCoist himself of course, sitting on his own in second place on 21 goals – for the time being at least.

It will never stop being remarkable that among all these names resides a right back.

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Rangers skipper James Tavernier is currently tucked in just behind the 21-goal McCoist on 20 goals. As he himself pointed out yesterday, it is probably time he added to this tally having not scored in Europe since the Champions League qualifier against PSV Eindhoven in August. “I think I need to (score)," he said when asked about the possibility of drawing level with an Ibrox scoring legend, from the penalty spot or otherwise.

"I haven’t scored a European goal since we started the group stages so I am definitely due one," he added. "I will obviously try to do my defensive duties and help the team keep a clean sheet, but if I can help the lads up top then I will definitely try to do that.”

As a fellow Hall of Fame inductee, McCoist is of course well aware of Tavernier's contribution to recent Ibrox history. But he still couldn't find a place for him in his Greatest XI, although this omission must be placed in further context – McCoist admits he committed something approaching heresy by leaving out Sandy Jardine, considered by many to be Rangers' greatest-ever full back. Indeed, McCoist appeared to conclude that the best form of defence is attack, with three centre halves – Terry Butcher, John Greig and Richard Gough – shielded by Graeme Souness.

“There are certainly a lot of legends at the club and Ally has witnessed a lot of them,” said Tavernier, whose credentials to be considered among them have been burnished by recent European exploits.

Whether Rangers can reach the last eight of the Europa League for the second time in three seasons remains to be seen. Porto gave notice of the task awaiting Rangers by taking Premier League leaders Arsenal to penalties in the Champions League on Tuesday. Benfica are currently six points above Porto in the Portuguese league standings.

Few will be surprised if the early kick-off time of 5.45pm proves a practical arrangement given the likelihood of there being a long night ahead. As at the Emirates, a shootout could well be required to separate these two European old-stagers with so little history between them. Aside from that aforementioned friendly and one in 1948, when Bill Struth’s team won 3-0 in Lisbon, the only competitive clashes prior to this tie came just over three years ago in the Europa League group stage. The away goal rule was not applicable then, just as it is not applicable now.

“I like numbers and I like statistics and the chance of getting extra-time has become much bigger now with the rules saying that away goals don’t count anymore,” said manager Philippe Clement. “That means that the chance is much bigger that you have extra time and that you have penalties than it was in the past. So, of course, we need to practice penalties.”

Sadly for Rangers, Tavernier cannot take them all – although he was unsuccessful with his last attempt, against Hibs last Sunday.

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Rangers still scored thanks to John Lundstram bundling the rebound into the goal on their way to the 2-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final victory. They will require everyone to put their shoulder to the wheel this evening, including Cyriel Dessers, the erratic forward who has not scored in four games.

He has yet to earn a place in the Rangers goalscorers' pantheon although, under the Ibrox lights, anything is possible.



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