Rangers have won just three of their last six matches since the winter break - handing rivals Celtic the advantage in this season's Premiership title race.

Manager Steven Gerrard has accepted some blame for his side's results and some of the performances they've put in, branding them unacceptable. He has also questioned his players' bottle on their quest for silverware.

It all looked so rosy at 5pm on December 29 after they had soundly beaten the Hoops at Parkhead. A 2-1 victory which represented serious growth and improvement under their manager - as well as a statement of intent to their rivals that this was, indeed, a race to the finish line.

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So it begs the question: What on earth has happened since the winter break? Here, our Herald and Times sports writers have had a look at just what has gone on at Ibrox and why the wheels have fallen off so quickly.

Chris Jack

IT is the question that Steven Gerrard will have asked himself as often as every Rangers supporter over the last few hours. It is a difficult one to answer, mainly because there is no single factor that has been the root cause of Rangers’ collapse in the Premiership.

The loss of Alfredo Morelos and James Tavernier through suspension and injury certainly played a part, while too many of Gerrard’s main players have been out of form at the same time. Individual levels have dropped and collective performances have suffered as a consequence.

Gerrard won’t shirk from his share of the blame and there is rightly a focus on his team selections and his tactics. It is bewildering, for example, why Steven Davis didn’t feature at all during the defeat at Rugby Park as Rangers failed to see the game out.

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The winter break undoubtedly burst Rangers’ momentum, but the doubts over their mentality keep coming back to the fore. This isn’t a squad with enough winners in it and, unlike Celtic, they are unable to get the job done when it really matters.

Rangers’ desire for success cannot be questioned, but their ability to deliver it certainly can. This squad is better but not good enough physically or mentally and Gerrard can have no complaints about the criticism and the pressure landing on him as a result.

James Cairney

Rangers simply are not the team that they were going into the winter break. The lack of creativity in the final third is remarkable, given how free-scoring they were for the first half of the campaign. There’s a real toothlessness about Steven Gerrard’s side at the moment and at the other end, they’re starting to look sloppy too.

In the first half of the season, the Ibrox club had the best defensive record in the league with only 11 conceded. In the five games since, they’ve conceded five. Before, Rangers were conceding a goal every second match on average. That figure has since doubled.

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It’s a similar story at the other end. Without Alfredo Morelos, Gerrard’s side lack a cutting edge in the final third but it is equally concerning that the Colombian hasn’t scored in the league since Boxing Day. Suspension has, of course, played its part but this is Morelos’ longest run of Premiership games this season without finding the net. This goal drought has arrived at the worst possible time.

There is also little doubt that Rangers have been unfortunate with injuries. Ryan Jack, James Tavernier, Filip Helander and Borna Barisic have all missed matches since the winter break and all four are key players for Gerrard. In particular, when the two full-backs miss out, Gerrard simply doesn’t have other players who can slot in in similar roles. 

Andy Halliday and Matt Polster simply aren’t adequate back-up full-backs; neither have the attacking impetus, positional awareness or crossing ability to slot into the starting XI and play in Gerrard’s preferred system. The result is that Rangers effectively lose a player in attacking phases of play when Barisic or Tavernier don't start and as we’ve seen, that’s made quite the difference in the final third. Sides who are well-drilled at the back, like Killie, gain the numerical advantage in defence and Rangers run out of ideas very quickly.

Matthew Lindsay

A combination of factors have been responsible for Rangers’ catastrophic collapse in the second-half of the season.

Losing their captain and first-choice right back James Tavernier and leading scorer Alfredo Morelos at the same time proved costly. The Ibrox club lost to Hearts away at Tynecastle without the duo.

When Morelos returned from his suspension he was carrying a slight calf strain and was well off the pace. He wasn’t his normal self as Steven Gerrard’s team were held to a 0-0 draw by Aberdeen at home.

But both Tavernier and Morelos were back in the starting line-up at Rugby Park last night as Rangers let a one goal lead slip and crashed to a 2-1 loss. So what happened?

Gerrard, with typical honesty, accepted full responsibility for the poor performance and painful loss in Ayrshire afterwards. He has to shoulder his fair share of the blame.

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In my view, he got his team selection wrong. Why wasn’t Steven Davis involved? Why was Glen Kamara omitted from the squad? The game was crying out for one or even both of them.  

But ultimately it is the inferior quality of Gerrard’s squad, as much as his inexperience, which has handed Celtic their ninth consecutive Scottish title.

Mark Hendry

The winter break could not have come at a worse time for Rangers. A monumental victory over Celtic at Parkhead should have been the catalyst for their title push but, instead, they were unable to capitalise on the feelgood factor around the club at that time.

Steven Gerrard's men had managed to cut Celtic's lead to two points and their game in hand was set to hand them the lead at the summit. Now it looks like their extra match will mean diddly as Celts continue to win while they falter.

Injuries, of course, have played their part. Jermain Defoe offers something different up-front from top marksman Alfredo Morelos. When El Buffalo is off the boil, as he appears to be at the moment, the veteran has always come up trumps for his side with vital goals at important times.

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Ryan Jack would usually be the first name on the teamsheet for his manager but, after picking up a knock against Hearts, he missed a handful of games. As did their influential captain James Tavernier. Rangers do not have the strength in depth they need to replace these players when they're missing.

Across the city, when Ryan Christie, for example, was suspended, Celtic had Tom Rogic, Mikey Johnston and Olivier Ntcham to call on. Neil Lennon has the stronger squad as a whole, which is a significant advantage in itself.

But Steven Gerrard's charges have dropped points outside of Celtic. That must be the most worrying aspect from a Rangers point of view.

Kenneth Ward

When Rangers splashed £7m on Ryan Kent last summer, it was seen by some as a signal of intent that they were going to push hard to prise the title away from Celtic this season.

Questions surfaced over whether the club, with just a season of Europa League football under their belts, could afford such an outlay after the events of 2012 which saw them liquidated due to financial troubles.

But Ibrox manager Steven Gerrard clearly felt he had the man who could make the difference in the former Liverpool player. 
The reality has been very different. 

Kent has started just 15 league games this season, chipping in with six goals. While it took him 27 league matches to reach that tally last term, Rangers have also been looking to get bang for their buck from the 23-year-old in their Europa League campaign. 

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Despite navigating the qualification rounds and making it out of a group section which included Porto and Sporting Lisbon, Kent hasn’t scored a single goal in Europe since he first joined the club on loan back in July 2018.

Celtic, meanwhile, have Ryan Christie (11 Premiership goals), James Forrest (10) and have even added Mohamed Elyonoussi on loan from Southampton (four Premiership goals in seven matches) for a combined fee of £500,000, while feeling sufficiently armoured with Mikey Johnston and Tom Rogic in reserve to let Scott Sinclair leave for Preston in January. 

The triple treble winners have 77 goals in the Premiership this season already and, after last night’s 5-0 win over Hearts, who’d bet against them hitting the century mark come May? Rangers, meanwhile, have come up 17 goals behind their rivals, and Kent’s strike rate is part of that deficit.

A superb goal in the New Year win at Celtic Park offered a glimpse of Kent’s undoubted talent, but a lack of consistency since has been a hallmark of Gerrard’s team.

The question is: does the much-vaunted Englishman’s underwhelming campaign reflect the Ibrox side’s stuttering title challenge? Seven million pounds says it does.

Graeme McGarry

The man best placed to explain what has gone wrong at Rangers since the winter break is Steven Gerrard, and the Ibrox manager’s repeated references to his side’s mentality are hugely telling.

There is no doubt that his men have wilted under pressure on various occasions throughout the season, which is all the more surprising when you consider how well they handled the game at Celtic Park prior to the winter break.

Over at Celtic, they have men who have been over course and distance over the past few years in the title race, and it shows. They handled that defeat to Rangers just as they did the previous year, returning in relentless form, while their rivals have stumbled as they struggle to handle the heat of the title race.

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That’s not say that Gerrard isn’t culpable. Injuries to key players haven’t helped, but his tactical inflexibility has allowed opponents to devise plans to stop his side, and his reluctance to make substitutes and inability to affect games have also played a part.

The Rangers manager may have to look at himself as well as his players if he is to salvage any sort of title challenge from his men.