The rebound in Rangers’ results is irrefutable.
When Gio van Bronckhorst took on the task of replacing Steven Gerrard, he also took charge of a team that was in danger of losing its first title in 10 years and unable to put together a solid series of performances.
Three consecutive league wins was the best run Gerrard could achieve this term before crossing the border for Aston Villa in November.
Since then, in his first 12 games unbeaten on the bench, van Bronckhorst has posted 10 wins plus draws against Aberdeen and Lyon.
In nine games in the top flight he has garnered 25 points out of a possible 27, conceding just two goals.
The stats alone indicate a noticeable turnaround in the Rangers’ fortunes but, as always, don’t tell the whole story.
They could be there to see them in black and white. But the shades of gray were causing anxiety levels to climb into the red zone at Ibrox on Wednesday night as the champions came close to a second successive stumble since the winter break.
Get the latest Rangers news delivered straight to your inbox every day by signing up for our newsletter.
We cover every morsel of information about your favorite club in the form of articles, videos and podcasts.
The newsletter will arrive every day at 12pm and will bring you a roundup of the best stories we’ve covered in the last 24 hours.
To sign up, simply enter your email address at the link here.
And if you haven’t already, be sure to join the conversation on our Rangers Facebook group and Record Sport on Instagram.
Because although his team is now better structured and more robust, this pragmatism has come at a price in terms of attacking style.
After dropping his first two points at Pittodrie halfway through the previous week, van Bronckhorst was almost reduced to watching
the final 20 minutes of an increasingly nervous stalemate with Livingston through the cracks in his fingers.
Scott Arfield needed a moment of brilliant improvisation to finally open a gap in David Martindale’s ironclad defense with a deft move from the substitute’s right boot.
The fact that the winning goal came from an overlapping Borna Barisic assist was also a reminder of the ‘break hand’ forward push that made Gerrard’s team so irresistible last season.
Van Bronckhorst, then, is still searching for the right balance at a critical time in the campaign against the backdrop of the first genuine pound-for-pound Premiership title fight since 2011.
No wonder he puffed out his cheeks with relief after Arfield’s intervention kept his team four points clear at the top.
Van Bronckhorst nodded and said: “It is very crucial to win these tough games. We want to win every game regardless of the circumstances.
“There are two teams with the same circumstances and we have to make sure that we are the winners in the end.
“We weren’t as usual on Wednesday night, but you have games like that.
“You just have to make sure you take all three points. For me, the next game is now the most important, against Ross County.
“We have two days to prepare, so all the energy we have now will go into the three points.
There is no time to blink, let alone stutter. Not with next week’s table showdown at Celtic Park now clearly in the offing.
The good news for van Bronckhorst is that he will have more strings to add to his attacking arc in the coming days in the form of Ryan Kent, Joe Aribo and newcomer Amad Diallo.
But those extra options mean you might also have to consider moving away from the more cautious approach.
On Wednesday, as in Aberdeen, van Bronckhorst deployed both Glen Kamara and James Sands as belts and supports in his midfield.
And, like Aberdeen, it was a tough and uninspiring watch.
But the Gers coach said: “You are also looking, of course, what players you have
available. We don’t have many midfielders.
“That’s why I gave Alex Lowry the opportunity to start. He has the kind of qualities that we have been lacking in the team. So it was very important for me to play with him.
“By Saturday, I have Joe back and Scott can play. And Alex, of course, so I have more options.”
Young Lowry has made a huge impact in his first two senior games. But van Bronckhorst is likely to err on the side of caution when it comes to this burgeoning teenage talent.
He continued: “The first training session in which he joined the squad he was a bit nervous.
“He was making a lot of mistakes in things that he can do well. You could see that he can control the ball well, he can pass it. But at first he made mistakes.
“But after he was a bit more settled and you saw his confidence come back. You could see the Alex you see now.
“Sometimes you also save his youth when he should have played faster, but that’s a normal process for him. I am very happy for him with the way he is performing.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.