James Tavernier insists Rangers’ roaring start to the season has nothing to do with the silence of the fans.
The Ibrox side are unbeaten in 21 games this season and now have an 11-point lead at the top of the Premiership.
Steven Gerrard’s team can also take a major step towards the last 32 of the Europa League if they can topple Portuguese big guns Benfica at home on Thursday night.
They have managed all this without the passionate support of the Ibrox legions, who remain locked out along with their counterparts at other clubs around the country.
But former Gers heroes Kris Boyd and Neil McCann both claimed recently that the ongoing coronavirus restrictions barring fans from stadiums are actually working in the Light Blues’ favour compared to last term, when Gerrard’s team seemed to wilt under the pressure from their own fans to put an end to Celtic’s reign of dominance.
But skipper Tavernier insists he would far rather run out to a packed-out Ibrox than have another eerie empty house as the backdrop to tomorrow night’s crucial European clash.
“Not at all,” said Tavernier after being asked if he agreed with the premise that the lack of fans was helping Gers. “From the start of the season we have been in real good form.
“From the start until now, I believe we have been playing some of the best football we’ve played and getting results that maybe we wouldn’t have got before.
“It’s always a shame we can’t get the fans in, but I don’t think that has any effect on the way we’re playing.
“We have been together for a couple of years now and we are only getting stronger with the players who have been added. So, no, I don’t believe so.”
The Ibrox faithful are already struggling to hide their excitement levels as they ponder whether this is the year Celtic’s stranglehold on the Scottish game will be smashed.
But Tavernier – who already looks like a leading player of the year contender having hit 13 goals from right-back – said: “We have worked extremely hard over the course of the season to get where we are now – but we still have a long way to go.
“So far, so good. We can still improve in areas and all the lads are willing to train really hard to try and make that difference.
“I’m really proud of the boys. For myself, I’m really enjoying my football just now and that’s down to the lads I’m playing with, the squad we have and the license the gaffer and management team have given us during games.
“I’m always looking to improve myself and hopefully that can continue.”
Gers drew 3-3 with Benfica earlier this month after throwing away a two-goal lead in the final 15 minutes.
Tavernier added: “We know this is going to be a tough one against Benfica. They are one of the favourites to win the competition.
“But I believe in my team and our capabilities. If we stick to the gameplan the gaffer gives us and apply ourselves from the first minute, we should put ourselves in a good place.
“We have to be better defensively than the last match and hopefully we can create chances to score.
“We relish the big teams, we relish European football.
“Obviously this season is a bit different because without fans you don’t get those European nights at Ibrox.
“But I think the boys love the occasion and we always step up to it. Hopefully tomorrow night we can make the club and ourselves proud.”