If there was a suggestion that the fat lady had cleared her throat  some weeks back, subsequent results have only served to confirm it.

Yet, for all that Rangers have not been on song since the return of the winter break there is an argument to suggest that even when the league title race is over there is still all to play for. For Steven Gerrard, anyway.

The Ibrox side currently sit 13 points off the pace of Celtic at the top of the table, the result of one bum note after another since the return from the winter break.

Gerrard started the week bullishly as he offered an emotional and insistent pledge that he would not be quitting the club but realistically that is what will be borne out between now and the end of the campaign.

With a game in hand and two games against Celtic to look to as a means of making the gap more palatable and less galling on the eye, there is scope to suggest that the final weeks of the season are massive in terms of what comes next for Gerrard.

There are few who would deny that this is a different team from the one he inherited. There has been financial surgery and the opening half of the season posted notice of a team punching above their collective weight.

But the manner of the collapse from January onwards, for the second season in succession, means that not only could did they hand Celtic the title but that they have laid themselves open to finishing this campaign so far off the pace that it is hard sell the argument there has been progress.

On Rangers’ return to the top flight, Brendan Rodgers’ inaugural season, Celtic finished the league 39 points ahead of the Ibrox side. In subsequent seasons that has been reduced to 12 points and, last season, to 9 points.

This season can still go either way; there could be a credible finale if Rangers can stop the rot or they can drift further away and finish with the gap similar to what it was when Graeme Murty was overseeing things, when Pedro Caixinha was in the dug-out.

There has been little evidence to suggest the former is likely but the latter would surely make it very difficult for Gerrard to appeal for a third shot at winning what is a fairly significant title next season.

On that front, the game against Celtic next Sunday holds a weighty intrigue. If the outcome feels fairly redundant given the lead that the Parkhead side hold, it will be interesting to see what type of performance is produced by both sides.

If Celtic turn it on and leave Ibrox with a back-in-your-box kind of win, widening the chasm even further, then it becomes difficult to make the case for another Gerrard crack at it. If, on the other hand, there is a repeat of the League Cup final performance or the high-pressing intensity that was the hallmark of Rangers’ win at Celtic Park in December, then there is an argument for continuing.

So far the only cause of optimism has come in the form of the club’s Europa League. But while a European season which started on July 9th and is still ongoing deserves plaudits, the currency for longevity at Rangers right now comes at Pittodrie and Tynecastle rather.

This week the Ibrox side will rouse themselves for their last 16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen. It might bring the schizophrenic nature of their season to the fore again if they conjure up a performance that is out of kilter with their limp domestic form but ultimately the judgment – in Scotland at least – is passed on a domestic front.

The bigger picture for Gerrard is that what has happened in the league this term will not affect his appeal south of the border. Since there is widespread disregard of the competition, the European run this season will guarantee that his stock is undiminished whenever he does venture south again.

Right now, however, the way in which Rangers finish the season will determine that.

Dingwall on Sunday will require a certain mindset and mettle. It is not about anything other than points and pride now for Rangers. Getting back on track is the audition that is there for all at Ibrox between now and the end of the season.


And Another Thing

It is every journalist’s prerogative to switch tact entirely; it keeps things interesting.

Billy Gilmour made quite the stir this week as he produced a man-of-the-match performance for Chelsea against Liverpool in their FA Cup win.

While this column previously counselled against the wisdom of throwing the 18-year-old into the national team and burdening him with all sorts of unfair expectations, his performance this week surely offers a rethink.

Small and slight the teenager had all sorts of heavyweights purring over his elegant contribution. And while there is a danger that the weight and psychology of the national team becomes an encumbrance, there is also the evidence now that Gilmour offers too much to leave out given the paucity of quality at Steve Clarke’s disposal.

If there is one thing to draw some comfort from it is that Clarke would be a commons-sense mentor in terms of introducing the youngster into international football.

Scotland has had so little to get excited about it is always difficult not to get carried away when there is a burst of promise on the horizon. Clarke isn’t likely to be overly blinded.