Rangers haven’t won the league yet. But, really, they have.
While Celtic can still have some impact on when Steven Gerrard’s team win their first title in a decade, it is now a matter of when, rather than if. Saturday’s win over St Mirren means they need only a point from their final six matches, and not even that if Celtic drop points in any of their remaining games.
Even the most cautious of Rangers fans can now safely assume that the title is coming back to Ibrox, and the fact that they can do that with so many games to spare is a result of the time and patience the club have afforded their manager.
It’s been a long time coming for the Liverpool legend, who has overseen year on year improvement since assuming the reins in the south of Glasgow. There have been long spells of adversity – this time a year ago, few Rangers fans would have argued with his dismissal – but he has persevered to make himself a modern day Ibrox legend.
But how did he do it? Let’s go back to 2018 and find out.
One of the many aspects that has stood Gerrard apart from his predecessors has been his ability to withstand the pressure. Despite his prior lack of managerial experience, he has been able to weather the storm in a way those before him could not.
We got our first taste of that back when he first signed, as he talked at length about handling the heat. To make it fun, take a drink every time he says ‘pressure.’
“I don’t mind being under pressure. I played under pressure and I have lived under pressure since I left school. Since I have stopped playing I have missed the pressure of going out and fighting for three points on the weekend.
“Pressure isn’t a bad thing. If you’re working under pressure then you’re in a good place. I know there will be a lot of scrutiny and a lot of pressure but that’s what I love about being involved in football.”
David Brent vibes, but welcome to Glasgow, Stevie.
It wasn’t widely heralded at the time, but Gerrard’s first transfer window as Rangers manager proved fateful for all the right reasons.
They weren’t all hits (Jon Flanagan, jeez) but so many of their signings that summer have gone on to become key players in their charge towards the title.
None moreso, of course, than Steven Davis and Allan McGregor. The two returned for second spells at Ibrox in the twilight of their respective careers, but their experience and title-winning knowhow have been central to everything Gerrard has achieved in Glasgow.
Gerrard’s first season was a transitional one as Celtic eased towards another title, but the manager used the time wisely, learning how to get the best out of the tools at his disposal.
One of the big successes of the 2018/19 season was the tune he managed to get out of Alfredo Morelos. The hotheaded Colombian made headlines for the four red cards he received. but also took his game to new heights under Gerrard, hitting 30 goals in all competitions.
Possibly the most Morelos game in history was when he scored twice in a 4-2 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie, only to be sent off with more than half an hour left to play. Gerrard soon learned he had to take the good with the bad.
By the end of 2019, it was pretty clear that Rangers were coming together nicely. They had a clearly defined style of play, and for the first time in years, they were making Celtic sweat.
After the final derby of the year, though, the Hoops’ mild anxieties gave way to paralysing, gut-wrenching fear. A towering header from Niko Katic secured Rangers’ first win at Parkhead since 2010, and moved them to within two points of the dominant champions.
All of a sudden the title was within reach. And while that would eventually prove to be a false dawn for Gerrard, it was a clear sign that the balance of power was shifting.
After beating Celtic for the first time in a decade, things got tough. They won just half of their remaining league games, and their remarkable collapse allowed Neil Lennon’s side to steal ahead and clinch a convincing ninth title on the spin.
Gerrard’s position looked tenuous, but his saving grace was a heroic Europa League win against Braga. His team looked down and out with half an hour to go of the first leg at Ibrox, but came flying back at the Portuguese side, with Ianis Hagi and Joe Aribo striking to deliver a famous European win.
They saw the tie out with a 1-0 win in Portugal – enough to convince the board that, while things weren’t all rosy, they were heading in the right direction.
That decision to stick with Gerrard? Yeah, it paid off.
Still stinging from the collapse of their title challenge, Rangers returned from their short summer break with the intention of putting things right. And haven’t they just.
Since day one they’ve looked a million miles better than anyone else, and that was no more clear than in their win over Hamilton at Ibrox where they absolutely ran riot.
80% possession, 8-0 with 20 minutes remaining, and Jon McLaughlin didn’t face a single shot. As convincing as it gets.
By the turn of the year, Celtic were clinging on for dear life, and desperately needed a win at Ibrox to stand any chance of overturning their menacing lead.
Spoiler warning: they didn’t get it.
Neil Lennon’s side dominated much of the game, but were up against it from the moment Nir Bitton earned himself a senseless red card, and Rangers nicked a winner with 20 minutes remaining to go 19 clear at the top.
This was the moment it was put beyond any real doubt that the title was heading to Ibrox.
We’ve now gotten to the point that Gerrard is so sure the title is coming home that he’s sliding on his belly down the length of the Ibrox dressing room about it.
To be fair, he has every reason to. His team are still undefeated in the league after 32 games, having conceded just nine goals, and are set to be crowned champions any time now.
It’s the end product of three years of hard work, patience, and perseverance.
It’s been a long ten years, but everyone at Rangers will tell you it’s been worth the wait.