Steven Gerrard hailed his Rangers side after insisting they passed the biggest test of their character this term “with flying colours” after coming from behind to beat Motherwell at Ibrox.
A Light Blues team that has collapsed mid-season in both of the last two campaigns once again found its bottle coming into question after Wednesday’s surprise League Cup defeat at St Mirren.
Rangers had gone 27 games without defeat before being stunned in Paisley but there was still plenty of doubters who wondered if this was the start of another season coming off the rails.
Those concerns only grew as Rangers fell behind to Well striker Callum Lang’s early opener.
With Stephen Robinson’s stubborn Steelmen employing a striker-less 5-5-0 formation out of possession, it took Rangers time to cut open the visitors.
But they finally got the breakthrough with 17 minutes left as Kemar Roofe scored, with the former Leeds striker sealing victory in stoppage time after Cedric Itten had nodded Rangers in front.
And the reward for that show of resolve is now a massive 16-point lead over Celtic – who have three games in hand.
“It’s a big result, I’m very satisfied,” said Gerrard. “There were moments there when you think, ‘is it going to come?’
“We were up against a five and a five today which was a new experience so that’s something we’ll have to look into.
“Motherwell were defending well. Nerves were playing a part so to turn it around the way we did was hugely satisfying.
“It’s a big three points for us, especially on the back of a tough few days mentally. We’ve been on a tremendous run, we suffered a bump that stung and from there it was all about getting back on track today.
“We found a response and a reaction. For large parts of the game we showed real character and we’re going to need that moving forward.
“This was a big test for us today and we’ve passed it with flying colours.
“The team did show its bottle. Look we can’t control what people write about us, what ex-players and pundits say.
“It’s important we just focus on what we’re trying to do inside and that’s believe in each other and stick together win, lose or draw, believing that if we keep improving and moving forward our day will come.”
But Gerrard is not getting carried away with his side’s huge advantage at the top.
“We’re in December, pre-Christmas,” he said. “Obviously we’d much rather be where we are. But there’s a lot of games in hand. We understand how the situation lies.”
Gerrard turned to his bench as he looked for ways to break down Well’s rigid shape.
Joe Aribo provided a spark in midfield when he replaced Glen Kamara at the break, while Ianis Hagi also played a part in the turnaround with a flick in the build-up to the second goal.
And Gerrard hopes that vital finish will help Swiss striker Itten find his feet in Glasgow.
“I was really pleased for Cedric, he showed real desire to get in there and score because at 1-1 the game was there to be won,” he said.
“He is really kicking on for us at the moment. He’s taking time to settle, he’s over here alone with his girlfriend and it’s been difficult for them both.
“It’s a big move for him, even more so during this coronavirus because he’s not really been allowed to mix properly with his team-mates. He can’t go out and get used to the city so it’s been an even bigger challenge for him and we’ve been delighted with him.”
A deflated Robinson – whose side has now gone six games without a win – said: “It’s tough to take as for 72 minutes the game plan is brilliant. We get ourselves in front and the boys carried out what we wanted to the letter.
“Ultimately we’re playing against a very good side and we made three very poor decisions and got punished for them. The boys gave everything but the decision making in the box for the goals wasn’t good enough.
“The plan was to sit back and let Rangers have the ball in areas they weren’t going to hurt us and then try to hit them on the break.
“What this does is give me hope – we’re on a sticky run but there are boys fighting for the cause and I’m confident we’ll pick up results in the coming weeks against teams with a lot less to offer than Rangers.”