AFTER Tuesday night’s elimination from the Scottish Cup, it now seems a near-certainty that Steven Gerrard will finish his debut season in the Ibrox dugout with no silverware. With nine Premiership games remaining - including two Old Firms - the prospect of an unlikely title win is still on the cards, but even the most ardent of Rangers supporters will admit that Celtic will in all likelihood finish the season as champions once again.

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Now that Rangers’ bid for silverware this season is all but over, it is only natural that fans will reflect on the season as a whole. Another season has came and gone, and Rangers look highly unlikely to add to the trophy cabinet at Ibrox. It begs the question: is there actually any progress being made under Gerrard’s leadership?

At this stage of the campaign last season, Rangers had accrued 58 points and were trailing Celtic by a further seven. This year Rangers are a point better off, and their rivals across the city have gained a further two points. Simply going by the league table, one could suggest that things are pretty much as they were. But this would be an unfair assessment.

Out of the three managers that have been in charge at Ibrox since the club were promoted into the top flight, Gerrards has the highest points-per-game. Mark Warburton was averaging 1.79 on average, and Graeme Murty fared a little better and was picking up 1.88 points per league match. Gerrard is currently averaging 2.03 points per Premiership game; not exactly a title-winning rate, but it is certainly a step in the right direction for the club.

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To put these numbers into context: last season, Brendan Rodgers led Celtic to the title with a points-per-game of 2.16. Ronny Deila won the Premiership with a points-per-game of 2.26 in 2015/16. Gerrard isn’t too far away at present, but needs greater consistency from his side if they’re to put up a serious title bid in the future.

By examining Rangers’ expected goals (xG) both for and against, we can get a better idea of the sort of opportunities that the team have been creating and conceding upon their return to the Premiership. The graphic above highlights Rangers’ xG and xG against per 90 minutes, and reveals that there has again been vast improvement this season compared to last.

The club’s xG figures for the 2016/17 and 2017/18 season are remarkably similar, and indicates that there was little material difference between Rangers’ performances in these campaigns. This season, however, Rangers’ xG/90 has increased from 1.61 to 2.22 while at the same time, their xG against has dropped from 1.26 to 0.8. Essentially, this means that compared to previous seasons Rangers are creating more high-quality chances and giving less away at the back: another indicator that Gerrard has got the club moving in the right direction.

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Similarly, Rangers are scoring more goals and conceding fewer on average under Gerrard than they have at any other time since 2016/17. The Ibrox club are averaging 2.24 goals a game and conceding 0.72 this campaign; this is again a notable improvement on Gerrard’s predecessors.

Add to this the fact that Gerrard reached the group stages of the Europa League, where Rangers gave a fine account of themselves, and the win over Celtic in December and there are tangible signs that progress is being made. Lest we forget, Rangers have been regularly thrashed in Old Firm games prior to this season, whereas under Gerrard, they have at least been competitive. Gerrard’s side are by no means the finished article - the ex-Liverpool’s captain’s record against Aberdeen will be a particularly sore point for fans - but the club are certainly moving in the right direction.

Rangers are picking up more points, scoring more goals and conceding fewer, and creating better opportunities for themselves and restricting the opposition to lower-quality chances under Gerrard than they have at any other point in the last three seasons. It is difficult to argue that Rangers have not improved since Gerrard was appointed.

Rangers’ performances in the Cups is an area where improvement is required, as is their overall consistency in the Premiership. Too often this season, Rangers have faced stubborn opposition and ran into a brick wall. But things are getting better under Gerrard’s guidance and the building blocks of progress are in place. It remains to be seen if Gerrard can build on this season’s work, but there are plenty of reasons for Rangers supporters to be optimistic about the future. It might not feel like it today, but things really are getting better.