Bullish appears to be the default setting of James Tavernier. Indeed, it would have been easy to forget that Rangers are a country mile behind Celtic in the Premiership as the Ibrox full-back assessed Mark Warburton’s men in the aftermath of their success at Fir Park.
The victory-earning late goals by Kenny Miller and stand-out Emerson Hyndman, on the back of Miller breaking Motherwell in the closing minutes of the previous weekend’s Scottish Cup tie, demonstrated “that teams can’t defend the whole 90 minutes against us” maintained Tavernier.
Saturday’s performance was framed by the visitors losing Michael O’Halloran for a reckless challenge on Carl McHugh in only four minutes.
Referee Willie Collum appeared to become intoxicated by brandishing red as in the 27th minute he handed out a second one in unwarranted fashion after Scott McDonald caught Miller on the ankle while sliding in to flick away a loose ball.
Tavernier delighted in his team having “controlled the game, even when they had 11 men and we were down to ten men. It played in our favour they went to ten. We worked the ball really well.”
So well, in fact, for Tavernier to have no fears about the Wednesday’s visit to Tynecastle, which was the scene of Rangers’ last defeat on the road, by 2-0 two months ago.
“It will probably be the first time for a lot of the players, going there with the fans on top of you,” he said. “But the guys will soak it up, and if we play the way we did against Motherwell then teams can’t live with us.”
Confidence has been engendered by the infusion of creativity by 20-year-old on-loan Bournemouth playmaker Emerson, and the renaissance of Miller.
Credit to Warburton, there was plenty of talk of the Englishman being toast when his team were burned in Robbie Neilson’s final game in charge. Instead, it is Hearts’ season that has gone up in smoke under Ian Cathro.
Back on 30 November, Miller had scored only once in the previous three-and-a-bit months. Now he has four in three games, as he operates through the middle with Joe Garner out injured.
Moreover, that sorry night for Rangers at Tynecastle witnessed a frightening lack of invention or impetus in the centre of the park by the visitors. It is early days, but in effectively engineering Miller’s goal by picking out Lee Wallace to provide the cross that brought the opener, Emerson initiated the first and slammed in the second on his first start – a week after playing in Miller for the clincher as a second-half substitute last week.
“He’s very good,” Tavernier said of Emerson. “We want to be attack-minded, and he’s obviously got an eye for a pass, plus he got his goal.
“So all credit to him, he has come in and done really well. He’s been a credit since he came in. He has worked hard and got us a result against Motherwell.
“The gaffer wanted to add to the team, and bring in players who brought something different. Jon [Toral, on loan from Arsenal] has also come in and done really well. I’ve had plenty of loan spells – you want to go into a team and impress straight away. Jon and Emerson have done that – they have fitted in straight away.”
Miller, meanwhile, can be a footballing phenomenon Tavernier considers by how long he can continue to play – the striker’s current form surely set to earn the new deal he craves. “That is obviously down to the board,” Tavernier said. “But Kenny has been a credit to the team. At his age, he is definitely a role model. He’s still flying and putting the goals away. I definitely see Kenny going on for another three or four years, easy.”
In taking 13 points from a possible 18 since Tynecastle, Rangers are able to head to the capital in the second place they are looking to claim at the end of the league campaign by holding off Aberdeen.
The Pittodrie men have played a game fewer, but on Wednesday are at Celtic Park. Tavernier sees “progress” and curiously Brendan Rodgers’ men can help them cement it.