Philippe Clement praised skipper James Tavernier’s leadership qualities after his double helped Rangers beat Hearts 3-1 in their Viaplay Cup semi-final at Hampden Park.
The Gers right-back opened the scoring with a penalty five minutes after the interval before half-time substitute Scott Wright doubled the lead five minutes later with a drive.
Tavernier’s superb 20-yard free-kick in the 64th minute clinched a place in the final on December 17 against Aberdeen, with Hearts skipper Lawrence Shankland’s late penalty mere consolation.
Belgian Clement said reaching his first final as Rangers boss was “a collective satisfaction, well deserved” before he turned his attention to his free-scoring right-back, who has netted 10 times already this season.
He said: “Not only goal-scoring, in the first place he is a defender, that is his first job.
“I like a collective way of attacking with a lot of people, he is important that way. He is a leader by example also in the dressing room.
“It is difficult for me today to pick out one player, but the very positive thing for me is that this dressing room has several leaders and we have several leaders who stepped up from the first day, doing the good things and who are really focused and help the young lads.
“It is an important thing as a manager to have several players in your dressing room that are like your right hand. So Tav is one of those.”
Rangers have little time to bask in their achievement as they have to quickly prepare for their Europa league clash with Sparta Prague at Ibrox on Thursday night.
Clement said: “The players can enjoy tonight and time with their family, but from tomorrow I expect everybody to be focused again towards Prague.
“We have a really big game. We miss a couple of players and miss a couple of players that I cannot select on Thursday, because they are not on the European list that I didn’t make.
“It is going to be a really hard game against Prague and we need to continue what we are doing with the ball and without the ball and I am becoming more satisfied with that.”
Hearts boss Steven Naismith conceded his side gave themselves a “mammoth task” when they lost three goals soon after the break but was puzzled by his side’s penalty award.
There was confusion and drama when referee Nick Walsh showed already-booked Stephen Kingsley a second yellow and then a red card for diving inside the Rangers box.
However, VAR intervened and, after checking his pitchside monitor, Walsh deemed Gers substitute Ben Davies had tripped Kingsley so rescinded the second yellow and awarded the Jambos a spot-kick, which was slotted in by Shankland.
Naismith said: “To think that he would try and dive when the ball is miles away, going out the park. He is never going to get a penalty for a dive.
“It is strange that the first thought is a red card for us when it is a clear kick. There have been a few penalties in recent weeks with that stamp on the foot – Aberdeen in Europe is one.
“Why was it not just a penalty and then we can review it? It was a red card and then we will review it. It is strange for me.”