Rangers extras: Oleg Kuznetsov and hammer throwers, why was James Tavernier substituted

An incident on Wednesday night rekindles memories of an irate Graeme Souness

Rangers defeated St Johnstone 2-0 at Ibrox on Wednesday night and Alan Pattullo, who was in attendance, picks out the extras after the Premiership encounter:

Kuznetsov and hammer throwers

Capped 58 times by Russia, five times by CIS and then three times by Ukraine, Kuznetsov had more than geopolitics to thank for such a decorated international career. Why should he spring to mind?

Rangers' Oleg Kuznetsov in action during a match against Hamilton in 1992.Rangers' Oleg Kuznetsov in action during a match against Hamilton in 1992.
Rangers' Oleg Kuznetsov in action during a match against Hamilton in 1992.
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St Johnstone, Rangers and Phillipe Clement’s heavy condemnation of the Perth side’s style of play, that’s why. No one is saying John Lundstram is as good a player as Kuznetsov but he will be missed by Rangers if the Liverpudlian is indeed ruled out for an extended period after the wild challenge by Diallang Jaiyesimi in Wednesday night’s 2-0 win over St Johnstone.

Kuznetsov, now 60, was an outstanding player. "The best defender in the world," according to Graeme Souness when he signed him from Dinamo Kyiv in 1990. In addition, the Ibrox manager, who paid £1.2 million for Kuznetsov, classed him as one of the top five midfielders in the game. So it was easy to understand Souness' frustration when the player was ruled out for months in only his second game for Rangers at St Johnstone’s newly opened McDiarmid Park. But it wasn’t the turf that Souness had a problem with, although he did make a later complaint about that too. It was more St Johnstone’s approach in the goalless clash in October 1990.

This is what inspired his memorable “hammer throwers” line. “You buy a player of real quality, truly world class and look what happens – he gets one game and then he is crocked," Souness carped. “I am not sure what that tells you about Scottish football but I do know there are too many hammer throwers in our game.”

As well as generating some enduring heat with St Johnstone, manifested most significantly in a later contretemps with the St Johnstone tea lady Aggie Moffat that convinced Souness it was time he left Scottish football, the comments prompted a letter to the Green F ina l, the Saturday night Aberdeen sports paper. “In one way I must agree with Mr Souness’ comments,” wrote Peter Nicol from Inverurie. “There ARE too many ‘hammer throwers’ in the Premier League. “Brown, Butcher, Hurlock, Spackman, Gough, readily spring to mind as good examples, and Souness himself was no featherweight.” Ouch.

Rangers' James Tavernier high fives the bench during the win over St Johnstone.Rangers' James Tavernier high fives the bench during the win over St Johnstone.
Rangers' James Tavernier high fives the bench during the win over St Johnstone.

Tavernier’s surprise sub

When James Tavernier was withdrawn shortly after scoring the penalty that not only made sure of the three points against St Johnstone, but, remarkably, saw him exceed Mark Hateley’s 115 goals tally for Rangers (he is now on 116, level with Kenny Miller), it seemed a move designed to let him feel the love of the Ibrox crowd.

Philippe Clement might have remembered being asked, on his first day as Rangers manager, whether he was going to strip the player of the captaincy. He was already picking up on the vibe that Tavernier was being cast up as a scapegoat for Rangers’ troubles, which was almost as remarkable as the Hateley stat above. Yes, that's right, Tavernier – the skipper who was getting double figures from right-back every season and who had already led the side to a European final, a first Premiership title for a decade and assured himself a place in the club’s Hall of Fame.

Clement’s answer to the captaincy-stripping question was a swift no. There were many other problems needing solved first, not that Tavernier could ever be described as a problem. Last Sunday proved the point. Rangers might have been on top against Aberdeen in the League Cup final but the game was on a knife edge. Then Tavernier inserted himself into the narrative. And not from a whitewashed spot 12 yards from goal.

He popped up at the back post, as does so often despite claims he only scores penalties, to adroitly slam Borna Barisic's cross inside Kelle Roos' near post and win the cup for Rangers. His latest goal, against St Johnston on Wednesday, was a less spectacular though no less well executed finish from the spot. He also delivered the cross from which Cyriel Dessers put Rangers ahead after 28 minutes. Not bad for four days’ work although, in Tavernier’s case, it’s been nearly a decade of excellence.

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As sometimes happens, familiarity has bred, if not contempt, then slight indifference. Far worse and less committed players than Tavernier have somehow found themselves feted at Rangers while he continues to do what he does. So it was good to see him given the appreciation he deserves when he was subbed off with several minutes still to play in a move that, while also offering Leon King some much needed minutes, seemed a deliberate ploy to let Ibrox salute the skipper. And the supporters did salute him, as did Tavernier’s teammates.

He went down the line of subs and already replaced players shaking each hand. And then, at the end, warmly tucked up inside a long body coat, Tavernier was one of the last off the pitch after circling the stadium on a night when Rangers had done what they had to do to increase the pressure on leaders Celtic. Although interestingly, the idea that Clement indulged in some sentimental grandstanding on Tavernier’s behalf when he took him off was later exposed as ludicrous – or so the manager claimed.

Asked if the unusual step of taking his skipper off was motivated by a desire to see him given a rousing reception, the Belgian was very clear. No, it was rather that he feared one of his most important – some would say most important – players might be hurt by a St Johnstone opponent, with the manager having already railed against some of the meaty challenges he complained had put his players in danger. “It was more to see I don’t lose any more important players for the next couple of week and not to take risks that another one was kicked off,” was how he put it afterwards.

Whatever the reason, it was a demonstration of just how vital Tavernier is to Rangers. And as a footnote, someone who seems to chalk up some kind of milestone each time he plays has now equalled fellow right-back Dougie Gray as Rangers' second highest appearance holder in league matches against St Johnstone with 23 games. Like Gray, who played in the 1920s, these appearances have been consecutive – Tavernier has not missed a game against the Perth side. John Greig leads the way with 26 appearances.