Rangers blank out noise as Philippe Clement reveals 'fire was going on' when he arrived and why there's been no smacks

The Ibrox boss tells players to keep their focus on themselves after hitting summit with win over St Johnstone

Philippe Clement says the secret to Rangers’ ascent to the top of the Premiership is down to blanking out noise and focusing on themselves after leapfrogging Celtic in the title race.

Rangers were comfortable 3-0 winners over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, taking advantage of Celtic’s 1-1 draw at Kilmarnock less than 24 hours to open up a two-point gap between the Old Firm rivals. It means Rangers have hit the summit outright for the first time in two years and Clement is now urging his team to keep “growing” together, with 12 matches left in the league campaign.

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"It was a really strong performance today,” said Clement, whose players had to deal with a challenging pitch. “It was not a surface where we can play our normal football. But we had to adapt, and the team is ready for that now. We had a few practice games in that way, like Dumbarton, St Mirren, in really difficult circumstances and they understand now they need to play a different kind of football in those moments if you have that kind of surface and we did it in a really good way today. We had a dominant performance, there was never a doubt in the game.”

Rangers manager Philippe Clement takes the acclaim of the fans after the 3-0 win over St Johnstone.Rangers manager Philippe Clement takes the acclaim of the fans after the 3-0 win over St Johnstone.
Rangers manager Philippe Clement takes the acclaim of the fans after the 3-0 win over St Johnstone.

Clement said his players have had it drilled into them to blank out noise from others about the title race. "We're really busy with that because it's of no use,” he said. “We're just focused on ourselves and we will continue in that way in the next weeks and months. It's the only way to be successful – and the players understand that really well.”

It was put to Clement that the next challenge is to stay top of the league. "We are not looking at that,” retorted the Belgian. “Our challenge is to be better every week better, better every month. Not every game you can be better – that's impossible – but we try to do that, to develop as individuals, as a team, to become better and adapt to circumstances. My best time as a player was in a team was when we played two/three years together, because you learn out of experiences. Good ones, bad ones – you become better because you grow. That's what we are doing as a team, to get experiences. The guys are really at the moment like a sponge, getting all the information inside and doing the right things with it. This is what I want. This is what I am going to be really tough on as well. I want to see an ambitious team that wants to become better and better. We're not looking at others, just ourselves.

"It's clear they all are growing in these past couple of months without exception. We are going to invest a lot with all the staff in them and they invest a lot in themselves and the group because every day everyone is super focused. I didn't have any problems with that in these four months – that' s the first time in a team I didn't have to smack somebody who is not focused or not motivated. It's a really important thing but they all feel they are in a really special story and it can be a really special one."

Clement reserved special praise for his captain James Tavernier, who scored two penalties to add to Mohamed Diomande’s opener. He now sits on 120 goals for Rangers. “It's crazy,” said Clement. “I don't know if there ever was a defender scoring more goals in Scotland or Europe. He has a lot of quality in that but not only penalties, he's scored important other goals like in the cup final, for example. And he is doing a really good defensive job because in the first place, he is a defender for me, not an attacking player. He is not busy with stats to play for himself but for the team like they all are.

James Tavernier netted his 120th goal for Rangers.James Tavernier netted his 120th goal for Rangers.
James Tavernier netted his 120th goal for Rangers.

Such is Tavernier’s importance to the club, Clement revealed that he was one of the first people he spoke to when he took over at Ibrox in October. “I am happy with Tav, he was the first player I talked with,” the manager said. “That's normal when you come into a building and you know the fire is going on, I wanted to see how to stop it as fast as possible so I wanted all the information, it's normal to speak first with the captain. He was really open and honest about all things in the club, dressing room and himself also. He feels good also, there is a divided leadership with several players who take responsibility but they have a really good connection together. If you're all alone you can be alone in the desert, now he has a few lieutenants around him that help also and are very influential. It's important to have that.”

St Johnstone were a clear second best against Rangers but their manager Craig Levein took exception to visitors’ second penalty, when Luke Robinson was deemed to have handled a Tom Lawrence shot on the advice of VAR. “It’s unbelievably unfair,” Levein said. “When you spin your arm comes out. I don’t know how you are supposed to keep your arm in like that when you are spinning. The referee hasn’t seen it and it’s the people in the booth that call it. It’s these guys in the booth making calls that are baffling at times. The referees aren’t really refereeing the game anymore. Maybe they should just get half their money!”

Levein conceded the incident, which came at 2-0 on 87 minutes, had little bearing on proceedings. “We didn’t lose the game just because of VAR today, but it certainly made life much more comfortable for Rangers and took some of our energy away after they were awarded a couple of goals,” he added.