Steven Gerrard cut a crestfallen figure as he sat in the Tynecastle media room detailing Rangers’ failings.
He looked and spoke like a man on the brink after being bundled out the Scottish Cup by Hearts.
That scene played out exactly one year ago as his domestic ambitions lay in tatters and Gerrard admitted he had “serious thinking” to do.
Whatever thoughts crossed his mind, the man who hatched the plan to hire him for Rangers is convinced walking away wasn’t one of them.
Mark Allen, the former Ibrox Director of Football, recognised Gerrard would fight back.
And how. Rangers are unbeaten on a title procession that could be over in weeks and have a Europa League last-16 tie against the Czechs of Slavia Prague to relish after scoring nine against Royal Antwerp.
For Allen, there’s enormous satisfaction that a three-year plan set out when Gerrard was appointed is being realised.
Many feared for a frustrated Gerrard bailing out two seasons in when the 2019/20 campaign collapsed.
But Allen, now Swansea City academy director, wasn’t one of them. He said: “I’m sure we’ve all had days when we’ve thought: Is there an alternative?
“But knowing the character of Steven, there was no way on earth that he was going to walk away from Rangers. No chance.
“The plan was very simple. The first point was to close the gap. The second was to win the league.
“The third was to put Rangers back to where their consistency level used to be.
“Without trying to be smart, I did think it would take three years. Lo and behold, it has.
“I was confident we just had to show, year on year, that we were getting closer, to focus on our part and not worry about others.”
Allen advised the Ibrox board in early 2018 that the next manager hunt should be about stature and not stats. And a main credential was character.
That led Allen to travel to Gerrard’s home and lay out his vision for rebuilding Rangers.
“I knew from sitting with him that, if we built the right team on and off the pitch, we’d be successful,” Allen stressed.
“It was going to take someone of his ilk to turn the situation around. Everything he stands for is absolutely critical to Rangers –that winner, leader character.
“I’d like to think Rangers will look on the appointment of Steven as a very important turning point in their history.”
Allen has derived great pride watching Gerrard’s team dominate domestically and play with such authority to reach the Round of 16 in Europe for a second year.
Their achievements have grown from seeds Allen helped Gerrard and his coaching team sow.
Allen explained: “The terminology we tried to integrate into the operation early doors was: ‘Organised. Ruthless. Relentless.’ Both on and off the pitch.
“That’s what you see now in this Rangers team. It always takes time for a culture to come together.
“Rangers are organised. Quite relentless in their pursuit, as the league has shown. And they’re ruthless when need be, putting chances away.
“I’m seeing all that come to life. What was once a vision and desire is now a reality.”
Allen admits the onerous groundwork and tough days of his tenure means James Tavernier lifting the Premiership trophy will be a powerful moment for him.
“I’ll have to be careful I don’t get emotional,” he said. “There’s immense pride. A lot of work went on, it was a difficult club sometimes.
“But I’ve always backed my convictions and been strong and resolute enough to see those through. It’s hugely satisfying that it’s going to come home.”
Connor Goldson and Scott Arfield plus the returns of Allan McGregor and Steven Davis were key recruitments to create a strong spine.
New penalty taker Borna Barisic’s impact after signing from Osijek was a satisfying slow-burner.
“I was never in any doubt about Borna,” said Allen. “When you come to a new country and meet a level of intensity you’ve never experienced, it takes time to settle.
“Invariably their second season is better than their first. Borna has added a huge dimension to the team.”
As with Barisic, Rangers have Gerrard and staff on contracts until 2024.
That won’t ever stop links with the Liverpool job that have existed since day one at Ibrox.
However, Allen is excited to see what future plans Gerrard has for Rangers.
He said: “Rangers can’t stop here, by winning the league. You’ve always got to strengthen year-on- year. The best do that. Look at what Sir Alex did at Man United.
“Every single year of their success he added more. And I’m sure that will be one of the things on Steven’s mind.”
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