Rangers on brink of longest run without trophy - but there is progress

Unless Steven Gerrard can engineer one of the most improbable comebacks ever seen in a Scottish league title race, Rangers are now on the verge of recording their longest ever period between major domestic honours.

Since the Ibrox club first established themselves as a trophy-winning powerhouse, the eight years from their 1903 Scottish Cup triumph to lifting the league crown in 1911 has been their most barren run in pursuit of silverware.

Tuesday night’s elimination from the Scottish Cup at home to Aberdeen was the latest shattering setback in their current quest for a first major trophy since Walter Smith led them to SPL title glory in 2011.

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With Celtic holding an eight-point lead over Rangers at the top of the Premiership table with nine rounds of fixtures left, Gerrard’s prospects of tangible success in his first season as manager are, at best, remote.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard looks dejected during the Scottish Cup defeat by Aberdeen. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS

But while the former Liverpool and England captain will ultimately be judged on whether he can restore Rangers to the winners’ enclosure in Scottish football, he has earned the right to avoid snap assessments of his longer term suitability for the Ibrox job.

It is all too simplistic to compare his win ratio this season with those of recent predecessors such as Pedro Caixinha and Mark Warburton as some observers have done.

That ignores the fact Gerrard bridged another significant eight-year gap for Rangers this season, leading them through four qualifying rounds of the Europa League and into the group stage of a European tournament for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign.

For Rangers chairman Dave King, who personally led the recruitment of Gerrard on a four-year contract last summer, that achievement was every bit as crucial to the club’s ongoing recovery from its financial crash of 2012 as winning a cup would be.

Having helped Rangers into profit and almost doubled their revenue for the six months to December 2018, Gerrard has plenty of credit in the bank as far as King is concerned.

Rangers are certainly in a better place off the pitch, including at the Hummel Training Centre where Gerrard has overseen changes to a set-up he believes is geared towards sustained success in future seasons.

Veteran striker Jermain Defoe may or may not be around to witness the fruition of those ambitions, depending on whether the Bournemouth man’s loan deal is extended beyond the summer.

But amid the dismay felt by Gerrard and his squad following their Scottish Cup exit, Defoe has no doubts his former England team-mate will go on to lead Rangers back to much brighter times.

“Of course it’s a building process,” said Defoe. “It doesn’t matter who the manager is. Obviously, though, the manager is a winner. Look at his playing career and everything he’s won.

“You can imagine how he feels after the Aberdeen defeat. He’s brave, he’s going to take it, take all the blame himself.

“But, at the end of the day, you guys don’t see how hard everyone works behind the scenes at Rangers. Not just the manager, but the staff and everyone.

“We’ve got everything we need at this club. Not just on the football side, but nutrition and everything.

“It ticks every box. It’s an unbelievable environment to be in. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s going to take time but I’m confident we’re definitely moving forward.

“Every player in that dressing room, the senior lads, the younger lads, everyone wants to do well. Everyone wants to bring the success back to this football club. I hear everyone at the training ground talking about it, how desperate we are to get those glory days back – and I don’t think we’re too far away. I wouldn’t want to be in any other dressing room.

“If I was a Rangers fan, watching the games on the terraces with a season ticket, I’d definitely be excited. It’s a club and a team definitely going places.”

The immediate destination for Defoe and his team-mates is a return to the scrutiny of the Ibrox crowd on Saturday when Kilmarnock visit on Premiership business.

“Obviously the next few days are going to be difficult because as players you’re naturally disappointed following a result like Tuesday night,” he added. “You just want the next game to come round quick to try to put things right. I think it’s sore for everyone right now. It’s just disappointing and it’s going to take a few days to get our heads around it.

“I’ve been in dressing rooms before and you look around and think ‘wow’ because of some of the players you’ve got. But for whatever reason, when you need that bit of luck or that know-how, it just doesn’t happen for you.

“But I don’t think you can just take the view the season’s finished and switch off. You can’t switch off as players, you have to look forward to the next game. If we get criticised then as professionals you have to take it on the chin.

“When you get disappointments you can’t just crumble and hide. You have to bounce back and that’s what the best teams do. You have to show the manager, the staff, the club, the fans that you’re good enough to play here.”