ALEX RAE knows only too well how fine the margins are between success and failure. Two decades on from his third time lucky, he believes Rangers can use their own double disappointment to earn the silverware they have sought for so long.

Rae saw his first campaign at Sunderland end in heartbreak as they fell a point short of safety and were relegated from the Premier League. The following season was just as difficult to take as they narrowly missed out on promotion and then lost the famous play-off clash with Charlton at Wembley.

The pain would act as inspiration, though, and the Black Cats' luck would change as Rae went on to establish himself during a successful five-year spell in Tyne and Wear.

Now, the former Ibrox midfielder looks at Rangers and takes encouragement from the way that Steven Gerrard's side have reacted to their own adversities over the last two seasons. Title challenges have been squandered, opportunities missed and cup chances blown.

There is a different feeling around Rangers these days, however, and Gerrard's side will return to Premiership action against Aberdeen this weekend with the momentum behind them and a nine-point lead over Celtic to their credit.

"When I went to Sunderland, my first two seasons, if you look back they will be looked upon as failures," Rae told Herald and Times Sport. "We were relegated in the first season with 40 points, the second season we had 90 points and missed out in the play-offs.

"We never hit the targets. Nine times out of ten you stay in the Premier League with 40 points and 90 points would win you the league.

"The next three years, they were gauged by Sunderland fans as the most enjoyable and we had highest finishes in the top level after breaking records in the Championship with 105 points.

"We had those two years of disappointment but we learned from that, grew from those experiences and those disappointments really set us up. It is about evolving through that and then coming out victorious.

"You remember those times and, looking at Rangers, I can see that they are learning. They have added more strength and depth, the group has been brilliant and it is keeping guys on their toes.

"The manager can change four or five there, rotate the squad and not lose the level of performance, and even increase the levels. Now they just have to keep it going and keep building that momentum."

Rangers, of course, have been here before. The opening months of the first two campaigns under Gerrard's guidance offered plenty of hope but ultimately delivered nothing in terms of silverware.

This is the most complete squad that Gerrard has had at Ibrox, however, and Rae, part of Alex McLeish's title-winning side in 2005, reckons there are more serious grounds for optimism this time around.

"The signs are good, very good at this early stage and it is about maintaining that," he said. "The signs are that they are very much up for the fight and they have grown from the last couple of seasons.

"We are only around a third of the way through the season and if we are talking about this in a few months that will say to me they have what it takes.

"As good as they are just now, that will only be quantified by what they deliver come the end of the season. That is how you gauge it.

"When you look at the players that have won trophies throughout Rangers’ history, it is winning that gets you to their level, that people say you knew what it took and you delivered.

"It is important to keep that in front of these guys so that they are always aspiring to get to that place. But it is still early doors and I don’t think anyone can afford to get away out ahead of themselves."

The memories of how the last two seasons unfolded should serve as a warning to anyone in Gerrard's squad that is not fully focused on the task in hand at present. The same can be said of supporters who are daring to dream too early.

There will be times when Rangers inevitably stumble this term but the aim week to week is to ensure that the momentum is not lost and the pressure on Celtic is not allowed to ease.

Rae said: "They are being ruthless and I like what I am seeing. I know that things can change quickly but they need to kick on from this and just constantly keep the pressure on.

"Having been about the place for a couple of years at the end of my career, I am very much aware of what happens when the pressure turns and how difficult it can be.

"When you are going well, it is great and you are applying the pressure onto others. On the other side of it, it is very much on you when things aren’t going well.

"Rangers are in a position now where they can apply pressure and it is about trying to keep their foot to the floor. Hopefully they are capable of doing that this season."