James Tavernier has called for collective responsibility at Rangers as their title bid falters, insisting manager Steven Gerrard has been badly let down by his players since the winter break.
In the immediate aftermath of Wednesday’s damaging 2-1 defeat against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, which left Rangers ten points adrift of Celtic at the top of the Premiership, Gerrard publicly shouldered the blame for his team’s failings.
But Ibrox captain Tavernier, who has branded their second-half collapse in Ayrshire as “shocking”, has no doubt where culpability lies.
“I know the gaffer takes a lot of the heat, but each one of us has to take the heat,” said Tavernier.
“He’s taken the brunt for us all season, but this one is simply down to the players. Every single one of us needs to look at ourselves.
“Have we let the manager down? Yeah, definitely. He’s improved everything since he’s come in the door at the football club. He’s improved the squad and talent-wise we know we are a better team, but it’s about how we apply ourselves and how we handle the pressure. Simply enough, we didn’t handle the pressure at Kilmarnock.”
While Rangers still have a game in hand on Celtic, they have surrendered the initiative in the title race which their 2-1 win in the Old Firm game at Parkhead at the end of December looked to have given them.
They have now dropped eight points in their six league matches since the winter break, meaning that even winning all of their remaining fixtures this season would not guarantee a title success.
“We’ve definitely made it harder for ourselves,” added Tavernier. “We had it in our hands and knew what we had to do. It was as clear as day. Go all the way until the end of the season unbeaten and we’d be in a very good position, but now we’ve made it very hard for ourselves with a shocking display in the second half at Kilmarnock.
“All we can do now is try to be unbeaten until the end of the season and we’ll see where that takes us.
“We’re still in the Scottish Cup but in the league we’ve made it hard for ourselves. We’ll just have to see how it unfolds.” Tavernier admits he is at a loss to explain why Rangers have struggled to find their optimum form after the winter break for a second successive campaign, having experienced similar issues last year on the back of an Old Firm victory in December.
“I honestly can’t answer for the last two Januarys,” said the 28-year-old right-back.
“We’ve gone from ending the year on a high both times and putting ourselves into good positions and then coming back and I can’t put my finger on what’s happening. We’re not getting out of the blocks at the start of the year and it’s costing us.
“It happened last year as well. It’s really hard to swallow that we are doing this. I know every one of the boys is disappointed as we let the club and the fans down. That’s the worst part of it.”
Rangers’ display at Kilmarnock had echoes of their 2-2 draw against Aberdeen at Pittodrie earlier in the season when they also failed to capitalise on getting into a winning position at half-time.
“We’ve been in this situation a few times where we go to an away ground and the crowd sniffs out opportunities,” said Tavernier. “And we simply don’t deal with it.
“We were in a great position after the first half. We were controlling the game, Kilmarnock didn’t have many chances, we were creating some without being clinical.
“In the second half we go out and we’re still in the driving seat at 1-0 up. It was said at half-time – a clean sheet will win the game. But since we’ve been back after the mid-season break, we’ve been conceding terrible goals.
“We never get opportunities to score goals like that ever in a season and it’s criminal we are conceding them as a team.
“If you want to be competing for a title, you can’t be conceding those types of goals.
“You have seen us this season and last season in the Europa League games with the mentality of the team and how unified we are in terms of seeing out games.
“But it’s at places like Kilmarnock and Aberdeen when they are tough and they are going to be challenging.
“They might get an upside in the match when they are on top, but you have to see it out. You have to be more ruthless at the back as a team and we need to finish chances when we make them.
“We are certainly not making the chances we were before we started this year, but having been in a position where we have gone 1-0 up, you have to see it out.”