STEVEN Gerrard paid tribute to captain James Tavernier for ignoring the deadline day speculation over his future to help Rangers rack up a 3-1 first-leg lead in their Europa League third qualifying round tie against Maribor.

Locked at 1-1 at half time with a wonder strike from Mitja Viler cancelling out a fifth-minute tap in from Alfredo Morelos, the Ibrox side came out after the break to produce what Gerrard felt was the finest 45 minutes of his time in charge, stretching their half-time advantage to a two-goal margin courtesy of a Tavernier penalty and a late header from Lassana Coulibaly.

The Slovenian side are famed for putting Scottish sides to the sword – four times in eight years they have defeated Rangers, Celtic, Hibs and Aberdeen in continental play – but Rangers will travel to the picturesque Balkan state with hopes of ending the curse.

Crucial to their hopes will be Tavernier, who saw a £2m bid from West Bromwich Albion for his services rebuffed on Wednesday.

“James was magnificent,” said Gerrard. “Look, good players get attention from other clubs. But I don't appreciate that attention 24 hours before a big game. I'd like a phone call from big Darren [Moore, the West Brom manager] at some point. But to be fair, he handled it very well and that was probably his strongest performance so far.

“James knows what I think of him,” he added. “It was a big decision to make him captain of this football club. I speak to him every day. It is up to James whether he tells you what has been said between us over the past few days but he has had my full backing and full support. I want James Tavernier here as long as I am here.

“I think the second 45 is the best we've seen from Rangers so far,” added the Englishman. “It's very close to how we want it to look. The challenge for us is whether we can do it over 90 minutes because if we do, we'll be a very good team.

"It's always nice to get a bigger advantage in Europe. It's an important goal for us but we certainly won't be getting carried away by the score line.”

While Tavernier stayed past the English deadline, which passed at 5pm yesterday, the club made a £2m-plus profit on Josh Windass, plucked from Accrington Stanley for a cut price cross border tribunal three seasons back, who joined Wigan yesterday. Declan John also departed the club for Swansea City.

“Wigan got to a number the board were happy with and the board put the decision in mine and Mark’s hands,” said Gerrard. “I spoke to Josh this morning and asked him what he wanted to do and he made it clear he wanted to speak to Wigan. Josh wants to be a number nine every game for Rangers and I couldn’t guarantee him that."