“April is the cruellest month”. So begins TS Eliot’s doomsday masterpiece The Waste Land. I think of that line every time I glance out at the patch of grass in my back garden, wondering how nature ever mustered up a plot so barren, moss-ridden and squelching is my own little corner of the earth. But could it just be the month where Rangers’ title aspirations are laid to waste?

Spare a thought for the last remaining groundsmen at Dundee, then, whenever they survey their own mulchy pastures at Dens Park – presumably with all 434 lines of Eliot’s epic ringing in their ears.

The Herald: Dens Park groundsmen try to prepare pitch for Rangers visitDens Park groundsmen try to prepare pitch for Rangers visit (Image: SNS)

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Only a few weeks ago I sat in the kiln-like confines of the media room at Rangers’ training centre at Auchenhowie and felt as though I had slipped into some kind of heatstroke-trance as Philippe Clement began to sermonise on the sorry state of the playing surfaces in the cinch Premiership. Little did I know then of the wise old Belgian’s clairvoyancy, whose gift of second sight foretold the slapstick scenes in the City of Discovery last weekend.

Sure, the plastic pitches at Livingston’s Italian restaurant-themed ground in West Lothian and Kilmarnock’s surface for another sport at Rugby Park are an embarrassment to our game, but other than those two, it has felt like the days of penalty areas resembling the set for the Dune movies during the long winter months in the Scottish top flight were long gone.

But when the Rangers team bus arrived at Dens Park on Sunday in the wake of biblical downpours lashing the Tayside area to the realisation that it was going to be a quick shuttle run back to Glasgow, you did not have to be Hercule Poirot to appreciate that Clement’s little grey cells had been working when he questioned the state of our top-flight’s grounds just a few weeks ago.

The Herald: Rangers manager Philippe Clement inspects Dens Park surfaceRangers manager Philippe Clement inspects Dens Park surface (Image: SNS)

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Having laid the groundwork for a successful harvest of silverware this season himself, the eight days leading up to the Dens debacle had already been a blight for the hungry former AS Monaco and Club Brugge manager. Defeat to Motherwell on their own patch the previous weekend – a result which has ultimately allowed Celtic to return to the summit – was followed by defeat in their own back yard to Benfica which saw Rangers tumble out of European competition at the first knockout hurdle.

It perhaps follows that Clement would welcome the chance to take a breather and avoid another tricky test on Tayside a mere 72 hours after that Europa League downer, that the last-minute postponement came as something of a reprieve after a difficult couple of fixtures, but that is to overlook how kicking the can down the road into April only saturates the calendar further as Rangers continue to battle on the two remaining domestic fronts after their European surrender.

April really could be the cruellest month for Rangers, then. After watching the crops of a creditable fist-leg draw in Lisbon crumble in the 1-0 defeat to the Portuguese champions in Govan last Thursday evening, missing the opportunity to go into the international break top of the table was a further blow to the Ibrox side. Rangers return to action against a resurgent Hibernian side on Holy Saturday hoping to keep pace with their rivals across the city, who themselves seek to resurrect their title aspirations on Easter Sunday on those plastic plains at Livingston.

The Herald: Rafa Silva scores for Benfica at IbroxRafa Silva scores for Benfica at Ibrox (Image: SNS)

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A week later, Rangers welcome Brendan Rodgers’ champions to Ibrox in what will surely be a pivotal match in the title race. Should Celtic avoid defeat in that fixture they will most likely have maintained their lead at the top when just three days later Clement’s side sandwich in that postponed fixture at Dundee on April 10, before a lunchtime kick-off in the Highlands against Ross County just a few days later ahead of the league splitting for the final five fixtures.

A week after that (and we’re still in April, here) it’s a trip to Hampden as Rangers take on Hearts in the Scottish Cup semi-final, before the first post-split fixture the following weekend rounds off a deluge of punishing encounters next month. During that five-match flurry to the finish line, Rangers face a daunting trip across the city to Celtic Park, where they have not won since the Covid-19 impacted season when no supporters were in attendance in Parkhead in October 2020.

Having pinched the Viaplay Cup from their arch-rivals in December, and after topping a tricky Europa League section which included Real Betis and Sparta Prague, Rangers clawed back their eight-point deficit to Celtic at the top of the Premiership table following the winter break. Clement had cultivated a seemingly unstoppable momentum, but their European exit and the Dens Park call-off have proved to be a stick in the mud.

Clement is an experienced manager who will have possessed the foresight to expect the current lay of the land, and he’ll be in no uncertain terms that when it rains in Glasgow it tends to pour. April could yet prove to be the cruellest month for his silverware aspirations.