THE final five Premiership fixtures this season give Rangers a chance to prove points as well as earn them.

Another handful are still required to ensure they finish second in the Premiership, but the meetings with Hearts, Aberdeen, Hibernian, Celtic and Kilmarnock between now and the end of the term carry an added significance for manager Steven Gerrard and his players.

Come the end of the campaign, supporters will look back with regret at how the title race has unfolded, how the silverware that was within sight at the midpoint mark slipped quickly out of their grasps during a hugely frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful second half of the season in both the league and the Scottish Cup.

Gerrard has been asked on a couple of occasions recently to assess the bigger picture and his assertion that Rangers have made progress this term is correct, even if the league table doesn’t show it all that much.

When the top flight split into two last term, Rangers had 62 points and were 13 adrift of Celtic, sitting above third-placed Aberdeen on goal difference only. This time out, they can look over their shoulder with an eight-point cushion to Kilmarnock and the Dons, while the deficit across the Old Firm divide is 11.

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Two derby defeats account for some of that shortfall, but losing twice at Parkhead, on both occasions by just one goal when they could well have taken something from each game, hasn’t ultimately cost Rangers their first top flight title since 2011.

If that is to change next term, Gerrard must find a way of beating those teams that join his in the top half of the table on a regular basis. The defeat to Livingston and draw with Dundee were low moments, but it has been Rangers’ failure to consistently rack up the victories that has undermined what were realistic Premiership ambitions.

Too often this term, Rangers have come unstuck against their traditional rivals, in the headline-grabbing games where significant performances are required and big results must be earned.

Three matches against Kilmarnock have yielded just two points, while only four of nine have been collected from Aberdeen. The record against Hearts is more acceptable but three wins over the Jambos contrasts to the hat-trick of draws with Hibernian.

Two Cup wins and one draw against Kilmarnock can be added to the record, but so must the losses to Aberdeen in both knock-out competitions that ended Rangers’ most likely pursuits of silverware in Gerrard’s first campaign at Ibrox.

The Old Firm win at Ibrox in December has undoubtedly been the most notable Rangers have recorded this term, but it has counted for little in terms of the table.

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In the first match after the winter break, the momentum was lost and the points squandered as Kilmarnock won at Rugby Park. And when St Johnstone left Ibrox with a draw the following month, in a game that Rangers just had to win, the feeling of despondency was clear amongst supporters as their league dreams started to fade away.

A third stalemate with Hibernian, after once again dominating proceedings at Easter Road, was another blow from which Rangers were never going to recover and the league was already gone by the time Steve Clarke’s side frustrated the Light Blues on home soil once again.

It is to Celtic that Rangers will always be compared, but Gerrard’s point that the gap to their Old Firm rivals had closed, and that it is the matches against the rest of the league where his side must improve, is salient. Understanding it is one thing, but addressing it is quite another and the deficit to Celtic has to be eradicated second time out.

Rangers no longer go into the Celtic clashes expecting to lose or fearing a heavy defeat, but they are not at the stage yet where they can go to Pittodrie or Easter Road with any firm belief that they will return with three points. If their fortunes are to improve, that has to change.

The margins in most of these fixtures are narrow. Rangers have not been dominated or outplayed by their top six competition, or anyone domestically for that matter, but they haven’t been able to find a way to win those matches at crucial times.

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A total of five wins from the 15 against the top teams isn’t acceptable for Rangers, and certainly isn’t the kind of form that will allow them to overcome Celtic next term.

Turning the stalemates against Kilmarnock and Hibernian into wins would have made a considerable difference to Rangers but Gerrard’s side haven’t had the guile nor the quality when it has mattered most.

The acquisition of a playmaker in the summer should address that issue, although doubts remain over the make-up for the forward line given the uncertainty that surrounds the futures of Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos at present.

Gerrard has long since identified the requirement to add at least one player with an eye for a pass in the middle of the park, while further strength and depth is required in the wide areas.

The Ibrox boss could also look at his approach in certain situations and there is an argument that Rangers were too predictable in many of those encounters. In particular, Clarke and McInnes seemed comfortable in setting their teams up to frustrate and stifle Rangers and there has been little element of surprise in how the latest matches in their respective long-running duels have unfolded.

The next five outings then, give Rangers a chance to learn from those mistakes, to show that they can overcome the more substantial challenges on successive weeks. It won’t count for much this term, but it would give supporters more belief heading into next season and ease fears about the same errors being made once again in the Premiership title race.

Gerrard has taken Rangers forward in recent months. The coming weeks give him a chance to tick another box.