There is always a sure-fire way for an Old Firm manager to deflect from their own shortcomings: simply point the finger of blame at the man holding a whistle and a pair of cards.

Scottish football refereeing led the discourse again throughout last week after Brendan Rodgers lashed out at the "incompetence" of the match officials after he saw a chance at jumping back above Rangers in the title race slip through his grasp with the 2-0 defeat at Hearts.

The worst decision of the day in Gorgie was a combination of both referee Don Robertson and VAR helper John Beaton failing to spot that the penalty which could've given Celtic the lead was actually Hyun-jun Yang running into Alex Cochrane and falling over. Plus, the major decisions which went against Rodgers' side could easily be justified under the wording of each rule, daft though they may be. But nevermind all that, Rodgers spotted an opportunity and he took it, and boy did a football nation that is becoming increasingly doubtful about his capabilities to lead Celtic to a third consecutive title lap it all up.

The national media ran stories about it all week long and it even dominated the pre-match coverage of Celtic's Scottish Cup meeting with Livingston on Sunday afternoon. Celtic podcasters and bloggers largely circled the wagon, giving Rodgers a bit of breathing space in a period where more and more Hoops supporters are questioning his management. It worked exactly as Rodgers intended.

The Parkhead boss wasn't the only one at it after both Celtic and Rangers lost on the same weekend for the first time since 2018. Following the 2-1 loss to Motherwell, Ibrox gaffer Philippe Clement complained about Alan Muir failing to show a card of any colour (we can presume he was angling for red) after a Dan Casey challenge on Ross McAusland which forced the Rangers winger from action. As Clement was a little less direct in his criticism it didn't generate the kind of hysteria we saw after Rodgers' comments, but it feels almost inevitable there will soon come a time when Belgian puts his finger on the scales and centres the discourse around officiating. He'll certainly feel emboldened to do so after Rangers requested Willie Collum no longer take charge of matches involving them after the 2-1 defeat to Celtic at the beginning of this year.

I actually agree that the level of officiating in Scottish football is poor this season. In general, it isn't anywhere near as bad as fans, pundits and managers like to make out. In fact, it's pretty good considering our population size. When it comes to referees making bad decisions, Scottish football tends to navel gaze and seemingly doesn't realise that "incompetence" is prevalent around the world. Our clubs have felt it in Europe in recent seasons, as has the Scotland national team. It's the nature of the sport.

But officiating has worsened throughout the SPFL this season because so many referees are being promoted too early above their level of ability to fill the void left by more experienced whistlers swapping the field of play for a small room with many monitors. VAR was supposed to end this kind of rhetoric, but it's only made it worse, as anyone with a bit of foresight would've seen coming because the laws regarding fouls in football are highly subjective.

Blaming referees is often an act of desperation from managers. It's deflection, aimed at turning the ire of the fans on to someone else. But it's particularly desperate when you're the manager of either Celtic and Rangers and choose to do this when you've been beaten by one of the other ten clubs. With the resources and talent available, officiating shouldn't even come into it. Casey not seeing red wasn't what defeated Rangers. It was still 11 v 11 and Rangers had more than enough quality to get the win. Thanks to some poor finishing and bad defending, they didn't.

And while, yes, a red card does certainly impact the course of a match as it did in Hearts v Celtic, there are countless examples throughout the years of Old Firm sides being reduced to ten men and still beating their opponent, or at least making a better fist of it than Celtic did at Tynecastle. Hell, Rangers once won a cup final while being down to nine men.

Such complaints, especially when our sides have secured a rare win against either team, further rankles with supporters of all other clubs because, rightly or wrongly, we perceive favouritism from the officials towards the two Glasgow giants. (Just ask any Hibs fan after Sunday's drama at Easter Road.)

If you are a Celtic or Rangers fan reading this, you may be thinking 'isn't it a little harsh to single out these two managers above anyone else?' After all, every single manager in the country will dwell on refereeing decisions in the aftermath of a defeat. And if you can get supporters to stand in your corner rather than criticising your abilities to manage the team, it makes perfect sense for them to choose self-preservation, especially with the average shelf-life of a manager in modern football. But while any other manager can deflect and get their fans to focus on something else, only Rodgers and Clement have the power to make perceived mistakes dominate the discourse for several days.

They are also the only two who would move the Scottish Senior Referees Association to make a statement defending their members and warning everyone of the dangers which come from singling out individual refs, as they did last week. Often lost in the pantomime nature of Scottish football is that the scapegoating can go too far. We've had a strike in this country before due to undue pressure being put on officials and it's beginning to feel like another event of this nature is in the offing with the intensity of scrutinisation increasing in the VAR era.

Celtic and Rangers will say they simply want to see improvement across the board. They certainly would have the most influence for that to happen, whether by creating stronger lines of communication or investing resources to train our officials up better. But in a world where everyone thinks the rest are out to get them, it's much easier to carry on as it is and indulge in the occasional dog-whistle.