WHETHER fielding digs from Celtic-minded pundits branding him a ‘serial loser’ or feeling the doubt of Rangers fans in his captaincy credentials, James Tavernier has suffered some low blows at Ibrox.

He may have been down, but he was never out. Four years back, Tavernier was part of two harrowing, hefty end-of-season defeats to Celtic that defined a chaotic campaign.

Only two years ago, his programme notes were read as defeatist by disbelieving Rangers supporters who couldn’t have him as officer material.

To go from those struggles to an unbeaten title-winning skipper last season was impressive enough.

Now, in his seventh season with the club, Tavernier’s standards, goals and swashbuckling displays have established him as the leader of the club’s remarkable charge to a Europa League Final.

That he dragged himself through many difficult moments is something Nicky Clark will make a point of recognising this afternoon when offering congratulations to his former team-mate.

The Dundee United forward stressed Tavernier remains the likeable Yorkshire lad who he first watched walk through the door in 2015 with Martyn Waghorn from Wigan.

He’d already represented nine clubs, including multiple loan deals from Newcastle, before the bargain £200,000 move by Mark Warburton.

Clark said: “Tav has obviously had a bit of stick at times but you expect that at a club like Rangers. 

“It’s difficult because the pressure is immense on you week in, week out. But he has thrived on it and has never backed away from it. 

“He has confronted it and you can see where he is now. Tav has been brilliant. His numbers, domestically and in Europe, are frightening for the position that he plays. 

“Apart from that, he is just a really nice guy. From the minute he came in at Rangers, he was brilliant. 

“I still speak to him now and again but, obviously, more so when we are playing against them. 

‘He’s the same person as he was when he first came in and full credit to him for that, with the responsibility he has as captain at one of the biggest football clubs in the world

“He has not changed one bit, which is good to see. A few came in at that time and Tav is the only one still there.

“He has kicked right on and I think he is just going to get better and better.’

Clark realised his boyhood ambition of playing for the club, albeit League One and Championship weren’t what he drew up in his dreams.

In three seasons, Clark put in hard miles on the journey, scoring at venues like Brechin’s Glebe Park.

Yet at no stage did his belief waver for Rangers returning to compete for silverware.

Clark said: “I’m looking forward to going back again but, obviously, I want three points for Dundee United.

“I’ll never forget those times. My first couple of years there was weird as they sold out Ibrox every single week. The backing the fans gave the club was incredible. 

“So you had that, then went to Brechin or East Fife and there would be scaffolding around the pitch with seating so all the fans could get in. To get to where Rangers are now is an incredible achievement.”

Clark’s United are on the hunt for points to stay ahead of Motherwell and Ross County in the race for fourth.

That’s beyond the expectations of Tannadice fans who feared the worst when Tam Courts was promoted from youth academy to first team manager.

Clark recalls the new boss was brilliant in ridding the building of any scepticism from day one.

“It wouldn't have been nice for him seeing the things that were being said,” Clark noted.

“It must have been tough for him coming in, especially not having experience and background of being at a high level. 

“But he was always comfortable with us. During his first meetings he sounded like he’d been in the job for years.

“It wasn't as if you were sitting back thinking he doesn't know what he’s on about. 

“He knew straight away what he wanted - and knew how to get it across really well.”