Steven Gerrard on verge of milestone victory which would enhance belief Rangers can go the distance in title race
As he appreciates as keenly as anyone, the only Premiership numbers which will matter from Steven Gerrard’s perspective this season are the ones in the points column on the final Premiership league table in May.
The precise arithmetic of how his Rangers side ensure their tally eclipses that of Celtic is of little consequence as far as the Ibrox club and their supporters are concerned, just as long as they are celebrating a first title triumph in a decade.
But in seeking encouragement and evidence that Gerrard is now ready to dethrone their Old Firm rivals at his third attempt, this Sunday’s fixture at home to Aberdeen could prove to be especially instructive.
For Gerrard and his players, the focus will simply be on the 90 minutes at hand as they look to maintain their unbeaten start to the 2020-21 campaign with a victory which would keep them at least nine points clear at the top of the table when the weekend’s action concludes, depending on Celtic’s result at Hibs on Saturday.
What overcoming Aberdeen would also represent, however, is Rangers’ longest consecutive winning sequence in the Premiership since Gerrard was appointed as manager in the summer of 2018.
In seeking the level of consistency required to win the title, the only constant for Gerrard in his first two seasons was frustration on that score. But success on Sunday would make it seven victories on the spin in the league and reinforce the growing belief among the Rangers fan base that the former England captain and his squad are now better equipped to go the distance in the title race.
The thumping 8-0 victory over Hamilton Accies at Ibrox before the international break equalled Gerrard’s previous best run of six straight wins in the Premiership, set during his first season in charge. But that run came at the end of that campaign, when Celtic had effectively already retained the title, and was largely put together while free of the pressure involved in challenging for the crown.
More pertinently in his maiden campaign, Gerrard’s longest sequence of successive wins when the title heat was still very much on was just four. Last season, Rangers managed five on the bounce at two separate stages. The first of those was halted when Aberdeen came from 2-0 down to force a 2-2 draw at Pittodrie in December, while the second came to a sticky end against a struggling Hearts side at Tynecastle in January – that 2-1 defeat proving something of a tipping point in the post-winter break collapse of Gerrard’s title aspirations.
It’s also a reminder of why Rangers’ start to this season, as impressive as it has unquestionably been, offers absolutely no guarantees that they now possess all of the qualities necessary to sustain that form more reliably than before.
Reaching a minor milestone of seven consecutive wins in the Premiership, however, would enhance the sense that Rangers can build the kind of momentum which has proved so damagingly elusive on Gerrard’s watch thus far.
It would also be Rangers’ best such run of league results since the club’s return to the top flight in 2016. In the two seasons before their financial collapse in 2012, they compiled two sequences of nine successive victories in the league. The first of those, under Walter Smith, was instrumental in their last title triumph in 2010-11. It was matched under Ally McCoist early in the following campaign before being undermined by the dramatic implosion in the boardroom.
It has been a long and often painful rebuilding process for Rangers since those dark days. Having finally found their way back to the Premiership, Mark Warburton paid the price for being outgunned and outmaneuvered by Celtic’s imaginative appointment of Brendan Rodgers who set new standards of consistency in his template for title-winning sides.
But after the ill-conceived and botched experiment of Pedro Caixinha’s tenure as manager, Rangers’ decision to hand the reins to Gerrard has seen a steady restoration of their credibility – most notably and financially rewarding of all on the continental stage with his three consecutive successes in guiding them into the group stage of the Europa League.
The absence of any domestic silverware remains a source of dismay and frustration, of course, and is simply not tenable on a longer term basis for any Rangers manager. But the Ibrox board of directors have never wavered in either the faith they have placed in Gerrard or the considerable backing they have provided for him in strengthening every department of his squad.
It’s an approach which former Rangers midfielder Ian Durrant, part of the coaching staff when the club were last Scottish champions in 2011, feels is now being vindicated.
"I think we are seeing now why it has been important to give the manager time,” Durrant told the Rangers Matchday Programme. “He has needed it to build the sort of squad he wants and is about there now. When you’re at the Old Firm, people think it’s going to be a quick fix right away but it was clear it was going to take a couple of transfer windows for the right players to come.”
Gerrard certainly appears to have found the right blend of defensive solidity and attacking potency this season with 12 clean sheets in their 14 Premiership matches so far, while rattling in 37 goals at the other end of the pitch. If Rangers can improve both of those numbers on Sunday, it could be regarded as a landmark moment for their manager.
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