STEVEN Gerrard’s first two seasons at Rangers were a case of so near yet so far. They were better, but not quite good enough in the Premiership.

This term, Rangers have undoubtedly improved once again and the time is now for Gerrard to capitalise on that.

The 40-year-old has had a transformative impact on Rangers, both on and off the park, since being appointed as boss in the summer of 2018.

Long gone are the days of Pedro Caixinha’s barmy press conferences and the signings of Carlos Pena and Eduardo Herrera. So, too, are the dark hours under Graeme Murty that saw Rangers humiliated at Hampden and play unwanted guests to Celtic’s seven-in-a-row party.

Gerrard has restored a sense of pride in the shirt and the squad and supporters now have a manager and a group of players that they can believe in, that they can get behind.

But what they want more than anything is a boss and a team that delivers silverware.

Until Gerrard does that, he cannot be considered an overwhelming success at Ibrox.

That does not downplay or overshadow the impressive work that he has done, it is just a reality of life at the Old Firm, where first is first and second is nowhere. Gerrard knows that as well as anyone.

He ‘gets’ Rangers. He appreciates the history, relishes the challenge and has the mindset and work ethic that is required at a club of this stature, where the demands to be successful are as high as the cost of failure.

Gerrard’s achievements in Europe have been remarkable and it says much about the job that he has done that Rangers should now be aiming for a prolonged run on the continent.

The money raised from three successive appearances in the Europa League group stages has been crucial to his rebuilding project. As he has given supporters several nights and occasions that will live long in the memory, Rangers’ reputation has been restored.

You don’t get anything shiny that is draped with red, white and blue ribbons for reaching the groups, or progressing out of them, though. So while the trip to Standard Liege on Thursday night is one to look forward to, there is no doubt which match is the most important of the week.

If Rangers were to lose at Parkhead on Saturday, it would not rule them out of the Premiership title race. Similarly, if they were to win it, there is no certainty whatsoever that they will go on and win that elusive and coveted 55th league flag.

But this is the most telling test of the season so far for Gerrard and the squad that has once again been significantly strengthened in the market.

Gerrard has the tools at his disposal, now he must lay the foundations for a title win rather than just a title challenge.

The additions of the likes of Kemar Roofe and Cedric Itten have added much-needed competition in an attacking line that was in desperate need of an injection of quality, while Jon McLaughlin and Leon Balogun are certainly far more than just dependable squad players.

Ianis Hagi was the deal that Gerrard wanted done early, while the late move for Bongani Zungu was the one he was prepared to wait for to add the finishing touches to his ranks.

This is the best squad that Rangers have assembled since the fateful year of 2012. It can be champions. In fact, they simply must be champions.

Victory at Parkhead this weekend would put them three points nearer that ultimate aim and Rangers must make the most of the chance to ask questions and raise doubts about their Old Firm rivals.

Whenever Celtic have stumbled or looked vulnerable in the last two seasons, Rangers have been unable to capitalise.

In Gerrard’s first campaign, the perfect storm hit Parkhead as Celtic missed out on Champions League football, sold Moussa Dembele and saw Brendan Rodgers jump ship.

The chance was there for Rangers, but they blew it after the winter break.

Last term, having seen Celtic again miss out on the Champions League cash, Rangers found themselves in a prime position thanks to their Old Firm victory at New Year.

The chance was there for Rangers, but they blew it after the winter break.

It cannot be said that Celtic were not worthy champions on each occasion and all the credit has to go to Neil Lennon for the way he marshalled his side to titles eight and nine. When it mattered most, Celtic had the mark of champions that Rangers have still to prove.

The chance is there for Rangers. There would be no better time for Gerrard to show that he has instilled that quality in this squad and learned from the mistakes of previous years.

On the back of a Champions League exit, a couple of unconvincing ties in the Europa League and some lacklustre Premiership showings, Lennon finds himself under pressure from his own supporters.

Celtic may only be a point adrift, having played a game fewer, but there seems a sense that the Parkhead support is less settled and satisfied than their Ibrox counterparts.

Anything that Rangers can do to add to that can only be a positive from their perspective.

But it is the Gers that still have the work to do. They must show that the dropped points against Livingston and Hibernian were blips rather than signs that familiar failings will haunt them and cost them again.

And the biggest challenge is to go the distance this time. When the finishing line is in sight, Rangers can't afford to stumble.

Whatever the outcome on Saturday, nothing will be decided but neither half of the Old Firm can afford to come up short by May. The ramifications across Glasgow are too significant.