JAMES TAVERNIER joined a Championship team but a Champions League club. Now, after five years, the expectations and the reality have begun to stack up at Ibrox.

The Englishman knew about Rangers’ history and was tasked with ensuring the future was as bright as the past as the Light Blues emerged from a tumultuous period on and off the park.

Winning the second tier title was the first step in the right direction but it is only now that supporters really believe that long-awaited dream could be realised.

Tavernier has seen players come and go, had five bosses name him in a Gers side and experienced more than his fair share of highs and lows since 2015.

But the arrival of Steven Gerrard has seen Rangers transformed as standards have been raised and boxes ticked at home and abroad. The final one – delivering the Premiership title – could be achieved this term as Tavernier and his team-mates finally set their sights on the silverware.

“Yes, I would definitely say so,” Tavernier said when asked if this now feels like the Rangers he thought he was joining. “It has taken some time, longer than I would probably have expected, but I’m delighted we’re getting there and closer to our goals.

“We’ve reached the knockout stages of the Europa League, we’ve made a cup final and that’s where the club needs to be.

“Obviously, we need to now deliver trophies and we have important Europa tie coming up, the Scottish Cup and we’re in a title race. It’s a very good position to be in and we’ve got to keep pushing.”

As Rangers stumbled along the road to recovery under Mark Warburton, Pedro Caixinha and Graeme Murty, Celtic were racing into the distance when Brendan Rodgers delivered back-to-back Trebles.

Gerrard wasn’t able to prevent a third successive clean sweep last term but the progress made has proven to be the foundation upon which Rangers have built in recent months.

The process has been long – and at times painful – but Tavernier believes the signs are certainly positive at Ibrox heading into the second half of the season.

“I never doubted it,” he said. “I love playing football and it has been a path in which there have been bumps, but you learn from them.

“The previous managers didn’t maybe work for the club, the right players weren’t brought in, although some tremendous lads have come and gone, but we have really good strength in depth now in the squad, which is what we really need.

“A few years ago we had young lads on the bench for the Scottish Cup final against Hibs, for example, and from there to now we have a squad that has really good strength in depth.”

From that Scottish Cup final defeat to Hibernian to Hampden humiliations against Celtic and Old Firm hammerings at Ibrox and Parkhead, Tavernier has been through it all with Rangers.

He has now made more appearances than the likes of Mark Hateley, Jorg Albertz and David Weir. Just nine games have been missed, while 46 goals have been scored.

“It has definitely been a rollercoaster,” Tavernier said. “Starting with Warbs, it was a great experience in the Championship year, we got the promotion we wanted and then we couldn’t find the right footing we needed - we went through a lot of players, a lot of managers, and the balance wasn’t right.

“As soon as the gaffer came in, he put together the squad he wanted, strengthened us tremendously and everything around the group has improved, including the training facilities and the facilities for us at the stadium.

“We’re only going in the right direction to where this club needs to be. But we can’t sit comfortably on anything right now, we know we still have a lot to learn and improve upon and we must keep pushing ourselves to be the very best every single day.”

That approach has certainly paid dividends so far for Rangers and Old Firm victory last month rounded off an encouraging first half of the campaign.

The squad that Gerrard has assembled undoubtedly has greater quality than any that has been at Ibrox for nine years. It also looks to have the steel and guile required to go all the way in the top flight.

Tavernier said: “I’ve seen that change of mentality since the gaffer came in and it was evident in the very first league game of the season at Kilmarnock. There have been games this season we’ve won that we would have dropped points in a couple of years ago.

“We have full belief and confidence in the team and the way we’ve progressed this season. The gaffer instils in us how to be composed and relaxed on the pitch and if we stick to our game plan no matter how many minutes are left we will always create chances.

“It can be worked on over the season. It has been evident this season and it’s something we can still work on, no matter the situation. It’s a great testament to the boys in terms of how we apply ourselves.”