There was a quiet conviction from Rangers captain James Tavernier following the emphatic 2-0 victory over Celtic, concerning the distance Steven Gerrard’s team require to travel to catch the runaway train that the Parkhead side have been in title-winning terms.
The full-back maintained there now isn’t one.
“I think we are definitely there,” said the 27-year-old. “We have gone toe-to-toe with Celtic, who have obviously deserved to win the league. That is down to us, with our lack of consistency. But we feel that we have got the team and the manager is going to strengthen in the summer. We are in a good position.
“I think the performance was up there in terms of this season. I still believe we have another gear or two in us.
“But today I thought we were exceptional from the first whistle in carrying out the gameplan that was set out. I’m really proud of all the boys.”
A second comprehensive derby win at Ibrox makes for the first time since 2011-12 Rangers have shared the points across the four fixtures with Celtic. Since the liquidation of the club that followed and the subsequent four years spent working their way up to a Premiership they first contested in 2016-17, the Ibrox side have never been within six points of a championship-winning Celtic, as they are now going into the final round of matches.
Tavernier accepted that points carelessly dropped at home to St Johnstone, and away to Dundee and Hibernian engender exasperation within the Ibrox camp over their inability to push an eight-in-a-row claiming Celtic all the way. They produced this current longest league winning run of the season - the 2-0 win their sixth such victory on the spin - too late.
“The gap was too big for us and it was only our fault that the gap was what it was,” the Englishman said. “Obviously there is a lot of frustration in that but we can take a lot of positives from the end of the season. The gaffer said to us to finish the season strong and we have shown that we can do that. We have just got to keep on building and not take any steps backwards.”
Tavernier has been here before, of course. Rangers were expected to take the challenge to Celtic three years ago on the back of overcoming them in the Scottish Cup semi-final of 2016. Instead, they were obliterated as a Celtic revitalised by the arrival of Brendan Rodgers wiped the floor with all opposition to claim an unprecedented unbeaten treble.
In Rodgers’ two full seasons, Rangers were on the receiving end of some drubbings. It made Sunday all the sweeter for Tavernier and especially goalkeeper Wes Foderingham, who tasted his first success in the fixture since that 2016 semi-final in deputising for the suspended Allan McGregor.
“We have been waiting for these days for a long time, especially being at the club for so long,” said Tavernier, a summer 2015 signing along with Foderingham. “I was speaking to Wes in the changing room and that is his first win since the semi-final. The first time that we won was obviously a weight off the shoulder but we want to set a mark and we want to say that ‘we are back and that we will go toe-to-toe with you’. I am really proud of the lads.”
Tavernier took personal pride in his opening goal he claimed from a curled in free-kick missed by all, including Celtic ‘keeper Scott Bain, after only one minute and 49 seconds. “It was sort-of meant”, said the left-back sheepishly.
“I spoke to Razza [Ryan Kent] before I took it and he told me just to aim for that back post,” Tavernier said. “That’s what I did and you have seen them go in during games. I’m just delighted that it did. It was definitely a bit of both – a cross and shot. Like I said, you see players do it and sometimes it goes all the way through. But you have to put in an area that will cause the opposition problems.
‘From the get-go we were working really hard in the game but an early goal helps to set the tone. I felt we were more relaxed after scoring inside just a couple of minutes. The fans got right behind us and it was good.”
Tavernier, meanwhile, denied there had been any attempt at “mind games” by holding back his team as they made their way through the tunnel before kick-off with the result that Celtic were made to wait for them on the pitch.
“I had four mascots so it was just getting them out. They were leading us. They have got small legs!” he said. “They were leading us. There were no mind games, it was just the mascots.”