Like many of his team-mates at Rangers, James Tavernier is currently suffering from a dose of second-season syndrome.
The attacking right-back garnered individual plaudits during his first campaign with the Ibrox club, setting a new record of 15 goals in a season by a defender and earning a place in the PFA Scotland Championship Team of the Year.
Life in the top flight has proved far more testing for Tavernier. He has netted just twice thus far, while his defensive abilities have been placed under increasing scrutiny.
While Rangers remain in second place in the Premiership table, their 4-1 defeat by Hearts at Tynecastle on Wednesday night has raised fresh doubts about the level of progress they are making under Mark Warburton’s management.
It has intensified the pressure Tavernier and his team-mates will be under to bounce back against Ross County at Ibrox this afternoon and the 25-year-old former Newcastle and Wigan man admits the adjustment to Premiership football has been challenging.
“It’s obviously been different compared to last season when we dominated most of the teams we played,” said Tavernier. “But now there’s a little bit more quality where they can punish you in this league.
“Obviously some teams are still defending with ten men and they do have better players to do that with, so it’s harder to break teams down. But we’ve shown signs where we can break them down later in games. On the flipside, you also have teams that can score against you with a slight chance in this league, so it’s an improved league but I feel with the group of lads we’ve got we can go on another good run now until we play one of the big teams again.
“We know we started off the season slow and not the way we did last season, whether that was due to new players coming in and taking time to gel. Halfway through the season, we now have to start winning games no matter what. The new additions in January, Emerson Hyndman and Jon Toral, have fitted in great so at this time there should be no excuses. We just have to press on.
“How we handle this situation is by winning games. That’s the only way you can answer criticism or give the fans the reaction they want.”
Rangers’ defeat at Tynecastle was littered with basic defensive errors, following up their previous 2-0 defeat at the same venue in November when Tavernier was at fault for both goals.
“Wednesday was a total disappointment and we didn’t see that result coming,” he added. “We didn’t help ourselves conceding two sloppy goals at the start of each half. Straightaway that gave their fans something to sing about and gives their players encouragement and more drive. It certainly made the game harder. From the last game it was two mistakes from me that cost us the game.
“We don’t mean to make mistakes and that’s the whole learning curve of football. You’re always trying to improve and being a better player and we always say we win together and lose together. It’s disappointing to send the fans home unhappy and we were all devastated when we got into the dressing room after the game.
“We’ve looked back at the game and found ways to improve ourselves. Most of the time it’s not always the same mistake over and over again, so we just have to learn together and be better for it. Ultimately we need to set things straight on Saturday against Ross County and get the three points.”