Jimmy Nicholl insists Steven Gerrard has taken great strides in improving Rangers even although Celtic could win the title this weekend in the first round of post-split fixtures.
Nicholl accepts there has been inconsistency which has ultimately prevented Gerrard making an extraordinary impact in his first season in charge. However, he believes the situation has changed demonstrably since Nicholl himself was brought in to assist Graeme Murty for the second half of last season – and if Gerrard is granted the right resources, he predicts further improvement next season.
Nicholl had to suffer on the touchline in April last year as Celtic racked up painful 4-0 and 5-0 Old Firm victories in quick succession.
So when Rangers beat their rivals 1-0 last December it represented a considerable shift.
Nicholl said: “People keep giving you facts and saying there has been no progress – you’ve only taken so many points against this club and you were so many points better off at this time last season. So what?
“I ask ‘how do you know there has been no progress?’ and they say there hasn’t been as far as points are concerned – but there is progress about things they don’t know about, things they haven’t seen.
“I can say that because I was here for five months. I know there has been progress. I’ve been about the place; I’ve been about the club.
“Of course, they want to see it tighter and a lot closer than what it looks as though it is going to be again. If they have to wait another year, they’ll have to wait another year. Be positive.
“It wasn’t going to happen overnight. You assess the players and bring in what you think you need and gel them in to be closer to Celtic. There are a lot of things that go on about the place you don’t see.
“When they beat Celtic 1-0 on 29 December that was it, everyone got wrapped up and thought this was it, it would be closer this year.
“It didn’t happen, too many draws, so you have to assess that and ask what they did and didn’t do in those games, what players were used and look at all these things.
“There has been inconsistency with too many draws but Steven is a football man and upstairs will help him. It has been an eye opener for him at times. He’ll take everything on board and be a lot better for it.”
Nicholl knows from his own experience how the landscape can change dramatically in Scottish football. Rangers were hopelessly off the pace when he joined in the 1983-84 season. When he returned two years later they became champions and he said: “I went out there in front of 11 ,000 people when Rangers were finishing fourth and fifth in those days. People don’t believe that.
“I returned in 1986 and the difference? We won the league at the end of that season, that’s how quickly it can change.
“There were loads of factors, but it was about good experienced players who had a handle on the situation. That’s what I hope Steven does in the summer – address whatever you think is wrong or needed and get the backing from the board. It’s about quality. They say we need so-and-so and someone who knows what it is all about. What does that mean? ‘You’ve got to know what it’s like to be at Rangers?’
“If you can’t pass a ball from here to there. It doesn’t matter if you’re steeped in Rangers or not, you’ve got to have quality. You certainly have to have just as much quality as Celtic.”
Nicholl believes there is some under-used quality already there in the shape of Steve Davis and he is predicting his fellow countryman to be more influential next season.
Nicholl, who assists the Northern Ireland national team, said: “Steve was outstanding in the last two internationals. You don’t remain captain of Southampton under five or six different managers if you’re not doing something right. He’ll be disappointed he hasn’t played more often, but next year he will be a benefit to the club.”
l Jimmy Nicholl was helping to promote a new book, Rangers Football Club – The Ulster Connection, written by journalist Billy Kennedy.