Rangers manager Steven Gerrard admitted it was still too early to put a date on Nikola Katic’s return as he revealed the Croatian was heading home for Christmas.
The defender suffered a serious knee injury back in pre-season when he ruptured his cruciate ligament.
The 24-year-old underwent surgery in July and was told then by medics he could be out for anywhere between seven and 12 months.
His agent Ives Cakarun said last month he was hopeful Katic would be back to play a part in the Premiership title race run-in, suggesting a January comeback was possible.
But while the former Slaven Belupo centre-back has been busy building himself up in the gym – even releasing pictures showing off his new bulked-up physique on social media – Gerrard confessed it could still be some time yet before Katic was back in action.
And he even plans to allow the former Croatia Under-21 international to return to his homeland this week so he can spend the festive period with his loved ones.
Speaking after Saturday’s 3-1 win over Motherwell, Gerrard said: “Yeah Niko’s been throwing a bit of iron about. He certainly lifts a lot heavier than what I throw about, that’s for sure.
“Niko is working as hard as he can. He’s progressing as quick as he can but it’s going to be a patient journey for him.
“Niko wants to be fit yesterday. That’s the way he is, that’s the way he’s built.
“He’s desperate to help. I had a chat with Niko yesterday. We’re going to send him back to see his family over Christmas because he’s over here alone.
“It’s going to be a long patient one for him but we need to keep him involved as long as we can.
“It’s very difficult to put a time on (his return) because you know and I know the injury he’s suffered could be anything from seven to 12 months.
“You can’t cut any corners on it unfortunately so we have to be patient on it.”
Rangers had to show patience themselves to break down Well after Stephen Robinson’s decided to set his stubborn Steelmen up in an ultra-defensive 5-5-0 formation.
Callum Lang had given the visitors something to hold onto with his sixth-minute opener but Motherwell’s resistance was finally shattered with 18 minutes left as Kemar Roofe struck the first of two goals either side of Cedric Itten’s header to ensure Gers moved 16 points clear at the top after their comeback win.
Robinson’s striker-less tactics have been slammed by Rangers fans online but the Fir Park boss – whose team have now gone six games without a win – insists he had no choice to take a more conservative approach after his side were hammered 5-1 at home by Gerrard’s team back in September.
He told MotherwellTV: “People will say, ‘Oh you sat back to defend’ – but when you go toe-to-toe, you’ve got to hold your hands up and admit they are better than us. It’s as simple as that and ultimately you get beat.
“Today, we were winning 1-0 until 72 minutes and there was a lot of good things. People only see the result but I’ll ignore all that outside noise. I know the level of player I’m working with.
“Sometimes they make mistakes but I’ll protect them and we’ll go again on Wednesday night against Aberdeen.
“It’s a sore one to take, especially after the three defensive mistakes, but there is a lot of hope in my eyes as we didn’t look like a team that has lost a lot of games.
“We looked like a team that knew what it was trying to do.
“And I’m convinced we’ll bounce back. We’ve showed character. At times during this run we’ve had lots of possession, lots of shots on goal.
“We maybe needed a bit of that steeliness that we’ve showed for long periods today – now it’s about putting that all together.”