IT is a fairly damning admission. Asked when he knew things weren’t going to run exactly to plan at Rangers this season, James Tavernier pinpoints the very first league match of the campaign, a 1-1 draw at home to Hamilton Accies. The only conclusion which can be drawn is that the club have had the other 37 matches of a long campaign to rectify matters but have collectively been unable to do so.
“I guess it was the first game of the season, we wanted to win and it was a 1-1 draw,” said Tavernier, of that home stalemate against a Hamilton side who will either be relegated this weekend or face the dreaded play-off. “That wasn’t an early indication but it was the starting point. You don’t want to draw the first game of the season, especially at home. Some of the results were disappointing and even some games where we won we felt it wasn’t our best performance even though we got the three points.
“So it has been a disappointing season,” he added. “We haven’t accomplished what we wanted to do or played the way we wanted to play. But you have to learn from it and we have to put in a good performance on Sunday to get the ball rolling for next season.”
There are question marks all over this Rangers squad ahead of Sunday’s final league match of the campaign. Pedro Caixinha said yesterday that he would be able to present two sheets of A4 paper to the media this time next week, one with the list of summer incomings and one with those going out the exit door, which means that the meeting of St Johnstone is the last chance to impress before those dreaded contract talks take place this week. “I think it would unsettle you if you had been told before a game so it’s probably for the best nothing has been said yet,” said Tavernier. “Talks might happen later but you just need to try as hard as you can to impress.”
While he isn’t always everyone’s flavour of the month, Tavernier has probably done enough to survive the summer cull. The full back is a decent athlete who is blessed with skill and creativity, traits which put him ahead of many in the queue.
His name certainly won’t be on the list of departures if the player himself has anything to do with it. The former Wigan player has been linked with a move to rejoin his former manager at Nottingham Forest this summer but Tavernier has two years remaining on his deal and is energised at the prospect of staying on to work under the club’s new Portuguese manager. A return to European football as early as June 29 - an arena where he played Europa League fixtures against Atromitos, Club Bruges and Bordeaux with Newcastle United in the 2012-13 season - only serves to fuel his appetite for what is a fairly sizeable challenge.
“I am relishing the challenge, one million percent,” he said. “I love the football here, love the club so I’m just going to get my head down and work hard to be in the plans for next season. I got a few texts telling me that I was in the papers, but it was just one of those things. I’ve got two years left on my contract and I’m really relishing the opportunity to play here next season and play European football.
“I had a brief moment in Europe with Newcastle before,” he added. “I really enjoyed it at a young age and I think I would appreciate it even more now. I’m really looking forward to it and I’m sure the lads who have not been involved before are the same. We have been told the European nights at Ibrox are really special so I can’t wait for that.”
One man also likely to be in demand this summer is St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright, who has led the Perth side to their by-now customary European berth. Chairman Steve Brown spoke of his fears that the 53-year-old from Northern Ireland could be prised away from Perth even before the club’s Europa League ties, and Wright said last night that he thought his chairman had already started thinking about his long-term replacement. “I don’t know how to take the chairman’s comments,” said Wright. “But it is nice that he feels that way. He must be thinking of someone to replace me already! But I am happy here, I have a good contract and good people and players to work with. There are still goals here for me and I want to continue the success we have had. I believe that shows ambition.
“If something was to come up that was the right challenge and ticked a lot of boxes then I would have to consider it seriously,” he added. “I’m not saying I can sit back and pick and choose. But I wouldn’t leave an extremely good job for a risky one where a club has been unstable or is in the habit of sacking managers every three months.”
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