Progression under Steven Gerrard hasn’t been reflected in an enormous increase in points, but all of the signs are positive. Rangers have won more games, scored more goals, conceded far fewer, and perhaps most tellingly, been able to beat Celtic twice, convincingly, at Ibrox.
While the season may have ended trophyless, in the wider picture, Rangers are certainly closing the gap. Yet perhaps the most important thing was not even the result of those Old Firm games, but returning to one phrase - ‘The Banter Years.’ Rangers have had poor performances this season, but the random humiliating defeats of previous years seem to be gone for good. In fact, Rangers were only behind by more than one goal once all season, despite facing the likes of Villarreal as well as tough domestic fixtures.
Rangers’ increased proximity to Celtic has been backed up not only by results, but also in the betting market. At the start of Gerrard’s first season, Rangers were 9/1 at the start of the season to clinch the title, with odds only dropping to 5/1 after Celtic’s early defeat to Hearts left them trailing by a point. By contrast, before a ball has been kicked (and before any signings have been made) Rangers will start next season at 3/1.
While that still leaves Rangers as underdogs, the gap has clearly shortened, and if you’re intrigued by the odds, you can click here to find out more. Yet those could well change with two huge transfer windows to come - for Rangers and for Celtic.
Both sides are in opposite and fascinating situations. Rangers don’t need to desperately upgrade any position on the park, with the probably exception of left-back if Gerrard decides to cut his losses on Borna Barisic, who seemed promising but has struggled to get into the side. A number 10 is still needed, despite Steven Davis quickly emerging as a key playmaker, but overall, Rangers have a solid side where almost any position other than goalkeeper, right-back and striker could benefit from an upgrade, but equally be fine for next season with reinforcements elsewhere.
Celtic, by contrast, have the opposite problem. They need to maintain the gap, but they also need a rebuild. Dedryck Boyata has left, and loanee Benkovic’s possible departure might leave them even shorter at centre-back. Leigh Griffiths’ absence and potential unreliability means that a striker is a matter of necessity. The midfield also looks in need of work, after Tom Rogic had a completely anonymous season and Scott Brown continues to age. Oh, and that’s before considering the biggest question of all - who will fill the Parkhead dugout.
It’s probable that that window could determine the destination of the title next season. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will get the job done. Rangers looked to have scored a huge coup in signing Jermain Defoe and Steven Davis, but both players never really shone until a change in the system, by which point some disappointing results had combined to leave Celtic effectively out of sight.