THE race was lost at the first hurdle. Now the finishing line is approaching for Rangers.

A campaign that started out full of hope and expectation at Ibrox will come to a close at McDiarmid Park amid feelings of disappointment and despair.

The two points Mark Warburton’s side dropped at home to Hamilton back in August were a sign of things to come. Rangers have never recovered from that early setback.

Wins over Dundee and Motherwell were hardly convincing and when a draw at Kilmarnock was followed by an Old Firm humbling any aspirations of a challenge to Celtic were killed off.

The months since have seen few silver linings emerge in the clouds over Ibrox. The countdown to the final whistle has been coming for some time.

It will arrive in Perth as Pedro Caixinha’s side look to finish with a win, and defender James Tavernier knows it would be one of few positives.

He said: “It was the first game of the season, we wanted to win and it was a 1-1 draw. You don't want to start the season with a draw.

“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 that we won you felt it wasn't our best performance even though we got the three points.

“There has been a lot of that this season when we have got the three points but not performed the best we can. It has just ticked over and we need to hit the nail on the head and fix it for next season.

“I wouldn't say that was the case [that we underestimated the step up]. Teams play at the top of their game against us and could then get beat the next week.

“It is just the case that we have not been good enough. Obviously there are better opposition in the Premiership, that is why it is the Premiership.

“If you make mistakes you get punished for it, that is the case in any league around the world. We have been disappointed with the season.”

For many Gers fans, the end of the campaign will be greeted with a sigh of relief. The matches and the players won’t be recalled with any great fondness.

Soon, attentions will turn to next term as Caixinha prepares to overhaul his ranks ahead of the Light Blues’ return to the Europa League.

A third place finish in the Premiership and runs to the semi-finals of the League Cup and Scottish Cup may be seen as a solid enough season by some.

But at a club where the demands are as high and the thirst for success is as great, the performances put in and results achieved were never going to be accepted.

Tavernier said: “It has been a disappointing season. We haven't accomplished what we wanted to do or played the way we wanted to play.

“The performances haven't been good enough so overall it has been a disappointing season. 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.

“It is a lot of factors. We are a great group of lads and we have got talent in the group but sometimes it just doesn't mix.

“There have been different factors and the Premiership teams have stepped up their game when they have played us and always made it tough. That is another side that the boys have had to learn.

“The gaffer wants to bring in new faces and he has got his plans. It is just a case of finishing off the season well and coming back in a few weeks’ time and build some momentum to push on.”

The final 90 minutes of the season is the immediate priority for Rangers but attentions have already turned to the future for Caixinha.

The Portuguese will have just a couple of weeks to implement his Ibrox blueprint before his side return to competitive action next month.

Whether it is the Europa League or the Premiership, the League Cup or the Scottish Cup, there are new missions to be accomplished for the Light Blues.

“One million per cent,” Tavernier said when asked if he was up for the challenge next season.

“We have got a European place for next season and that is one of the big things in a career – to say you have played in Europe.

“I am relishing the challenge. I have loved the football here, love the club so I’m just going to get me head down and work hard to be in the plans for next season.

“I had a brief moment in Europe with Newcastle before. 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.

“With Newcastle, we got knocked out just after the group stage. I think I played three games.

“I remember the different experience and atmosphere of travelling away and playing in front of foreign fans.”

*James Tavernier helped Rangers Charity Foundation Director Connal Cochrane promote his ultimate forces challenge which he is undertaking to raise funds for the Foundation’s Armed Forces Partnership. Fans can help support the Foundation’s work with services-related charities by sponsoring Connal on his JustGiving page or via the Foundation website at