Rangers 1-0 Aberdeen: Indomitable James Tavernier drags side to Viaplay Cup triumph

After a final of thud and blunder, it fell to indomitable Rangers captain James Tavernier to come up with the one moment that mattered, an acrobatic finish at the back post, a boot to the Aberdeen solar plexus. Again.

The goal that won the League Cup was his 14th against Aberdeen since his first more than six years ago.

He’s landed winners and equalisers, openers and ones that have added to an already handsome haul, but the sweetest one of all came on Sunday with 14 minutes of a rain-soaked and error-ridden final left.

Rangers were well on top. In truth, they were on top for most of it, but the lack of accuracy and quality was a blight on the day.

Philippe Clement’s side showed more as time went on. More drive, more determination. They produced more chances and deserved the goal and the trophy they got.

After the wasteful, costly and yappy months of Michael Beale’s time, Clement has brought order, clarity and strength. He hasn’t over-talked or over-promised, he’s just got on with it.

The reward he bestowed on his players following the brilliant win over Real Betis in Seville on Thursday was an immediate trip to the cryotherapy chamber at Auchenhowie for a recovery session.

No emotion, no messing about, just the steely focus of a serious football person, rather than a talking shop or a PR act.

How long it’s been since Rangers last lifted this pot. How much goading from across the city. How much internal strife at Ibrox.

A dozen years have past since Nikica Jelavic did it for them. Since then – four losses to Celtic, further exits at the hands of Hibs and St Mirren, Aberdeen and Motherwell, St Johnstone and Forfar, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Falkirk.

Not so much dog days as the mongrel years.

‘We want it to be the start of something special’

Tavernier changed it all when he swept in his volley to put Aberdeen’s resistance to bed.

They must be sick of the sight of him. Of the 115 goals he’s scored for Rangers – that number is so stratospherically high it should be spelled out as one-hundred-and-fifteen, just to accentuate the mad nature of the haul – no single club has shipped as many to him as Aberdeen.

Some stand out more than others. The double that secured a 2-0 win in April 2019; the 81st-minute penalty that turned a 2-1 into a 2-2 in October 2021; the 90th-minute penalty that snatched a draw last month.

None of those, though, produced something as tangible as the trophy that Tavernier hoisted to the Glasgow sky on Sunday.

You go back to his first goal against Aberdeen amidst the Rangers wilderness years and look at the players surrounding him that day.

That exercise reminds you of how long he’s been around and how much misery he’s had to endure as a full-back who has had his defending constantly questioned and his leadership regularly doubted, sometimes by way of wholesale fury among his own fans.

Wes Foderingham was his goalkeeper on the afternoon he scored for the first time against Aberdeen. His fellow defenders were Declan John, Danny Wilson and Bruno Alves. A grisly trip down Rangers memory lane, this.

Carlos Pena was in that side. Ross McCrorie, Josh Windass and Jason Holt, too. Eduardo Herrera came off the bench.

Halcyon days, they were not. But these are. Or they’re threatening to be.

This has been a week of weeks for this club – an outstanding win in Seville to top their Europa League group on Thursday, a faltering Celtic blowing open the league title race on Saturday, and a trophy on Sunday. A treble of sorts. A springboard, for sure.

“Long overdue,” said Tavernier in the aftermath. “We saw it over the line. We want it to be the start of something special. We’re getting better and better. We’re going from strength to strength.”

Tavernier spoke about two moments in the first half that had him raging, two inviting deliveries to the Aberdeen back post that he wished he’d read and got on the end of.

When another one came, he was going to be there to meet it. And he did. And because of him, Rangers won a day they simply had to win if the Clement feelgood was to continue.

It’s taken Tavernier nine seasons to win all three Scottish trophies, an insane amount of time that’s demanded as much mental strength on his part as footballing nous.

He has those medals now, but listening to him post-match, he didn’t sound like a man who is satisfied with what he’s got. “We’re looking to get more,” he said. “Keep pushing and keep striving.”

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