Rangers have progressed under Steven Gerrard, insists former boss Jimmy Nicholl

Jimmy Nicholl has rubbished suggestions Rangers have not progressed under Steven Gerrard – insisting those criticising the Ibrox boss have no idea how bad a state the club was in 12 months ago.

Nicholl was placed in caretaker charge for the final three games of last season after interim manager Graeme Murty was sacked on the back of two devastating defeats to Celtic.

However, the likes of pundit Chris Sutton have questioned whether the Light Blues are really any better off under former Liverpool skipper Gerrard than they were with Murty at the helm.

Rangers – who have had to contend with the extra burden of 10 Europa League games this term – have 66 points after 33 games last term, just four more at the same stage last season.

And they are only two points closer to their bitter Parkhead foes than a year ago with Celtic currently on course for an eighth straight title having built up an 11-point advantage this time round.

But Nicholl insists anyone looking behind the scenes will be left in no doubt about how big the strides forward have been.

The Northern Irishman – now assisting Oran Kearney at St Mirren – said: “Yes there has been progress this year, but everybody just wants progress quicker.

“Hopefully whatever happens in the summer means it will be a lot different next year.

“If you only look at the facts and figures you might say there’s not been much progress – but yes there has. Just look at how the place was.

“People don’t know what it was like inside, so they turn round and say there’s been no progress. But I’m telling you there has been.

“You might not see it out on the park or in the figures or how many points they’ve picked up. It doesn’t matter. There’s been changes, it’s better than it was and that’s all there is to it.”

But Nicholl – who now splits his time between Paisley and Belfast, where he continues to assist Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill – admits he is concerned to see Steven Davis stall on his return to Ibrox.

The midfielder was expected to play a major role after returning to the club on loan from Southampton in January.

But he has largely been confined to a role on the bench – a situation that has left Nicholl puzzled.

Asked if he felt the 34-year-old still has a part to play for Gerrard’s side, he replied: “Of course – it was a mystery to me why Steven wasn’t playing.

“He would go away with Northern Ireland and be outstanding for two games, yet he’d barely have kicked a ball for Rangers.

“His fitness levels, his knowledge of the game, his enthusiasm has never been in doubt.

“Everyone thinks he’s this mild-mannered nice fella. But he’s not – he’s driven by determination.

“You’re not captain of Southampton in the Premier League if you’re mild-mannered and don’t care about playing.

“There’s a steely determination about him and believe me he’ll be disappointed he hasn’t contributed more. I’d like to see him contribute more for the benefit of Northern Ireland basically.”

– Jimmy Nicholl was speaking at the launch of the Ulster Connection, a new book by journalist Billy Kennedy charting Rangers’ links across the Irish Sea.