IT may have been several days ago, but the backdraft from Sunday’s blazing 3-3 derby draw between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox can still be felt like the warm glow of a woodburning stove on a cool April evening – an act that is expected to become a hate crime in Scotland in the not-so-distant future. And it’s just as well, with fixtures continuing to fall foul of our unsprung spring weather.

Whether through negligence and “unprofessionalism” or even climate change (depending on your particular hue of blue), proceedings at Dens Park on Wednesday night were once again placed on ice as the title race continues to twist and turn like a Tayside weather bulletin. It was the second time in a month this Dundee v Rangers fixture has failed a late pitch inspection and the chilly ramifications of this latest Dens debacle could be felt for some time.

The Herald: The Dens Park surface failed its latest pitch inspection despite the best efforts of the groundstaffThe Dens Park surface failed its latest pitch inspection despite the best efforts of the groundstaff (Image: SNS)

READ MORE: How much Dundee could be fined after latest Rangers call-off

As ever, fuelling the glowing embers ruminating from the weekend’s derby encounter is the debate over “moral” victories, a bizarre lap of honour, who emerged as favourites to clinch the league flag, VAR controversies, penalties awarded and goals disallowed. 

The Premiership title race played out in a microcosm at Ibrox last Sunday with a glut of goals, penalties, cards being bandied about, a couple of injury-time strikes and even a post-match rammy to ensure the 50,000 inside the ground and the record 1.44 million tuning in on Sky Sports experienced the full gamut of emotions as the two challengers emerged neck and neck going into the final fixtures of the campaign. So, in the cold light of day, where do those fiercest of rivals stand going into their final six or seven matches in the Premiership season?

The Herald: Tempers flared at full-time following the 3-3 derby draw at IbroxTempers flared at full-time following the 3-3 derby draw at Ibrox (Image: SNS)

READ MORE: Ex-Celtic captain in astonishing ref rant after inappropriate remarks

In terms of “moral” victories and laps of honour from Rangers, I call this bizarre because Celtic emerged from the encounter as favourites to lift the Premiership trophy. For someone who grew up watching Rangers steamroll their way to nine in a row during the ’90s, there was a rocking sense of cognitive dissonance watching such scenes unfold at Ibrox. Celebrating a draw at home to Celtic? Sure, they looked dead and buried at half-time, but given the significance of the derbies on the outcome of any title race, and with Celtic having won the first two of the campaign, this final home encounter was surely a must-win for Philippe Clement’s side. 

Rangers now must win the remainder of their matches, including the upcoming derby at Celtic Park in front of a partisan 60,000-strong crowd where they haven’t tasted victory since October 2020 when severe restrictions on attendance were in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. Earning a single point from nine in the derbies so far, with two of those having been played at Ibrox, could well prove to be title-losing form for Clement’s side.

Clement is an intelligent man and, while English may not be his first language, I’m sure I heard him right in the bowels of Ibrox Stadium following that victory parade round the stands at full-time congratulate his players on their “victory”. There is perhaps a case to be made for the Belgian in accentuating the positives at this delicate stage of the season, but besides the slightly embarrassing nature of such pronouncements, such proclamations are fuel for the fire for his counterpart Brendan Rodgers across the city.

The Herald: Celtic manager Brendan RodgersCeltic manager Brendan Rodgers (Image: SNS)

READ MORE: 'You never know' says Tierney as he rates Celtic return chances

It's safe to say the Northern Irishman hasn’t had it all his own way since returning to the Parkhead dugout last summer, and he has undoubtedly leant into a siege mentality in the second half of the season as his side have seen their eight-point lead clawed back to having a slight upper hand going into in the final thrustings.

Rodgers did his best to put a brave face on in the immediate aftermath of the match, presenting a calm, satisfied front. The Celtic manager will have been burning up inside, however, at both the profligacy of his players in the first half and their complacency in surrendering a brace of leads in the second. It really was a story of their entire season.

Grumbling over referee John Beaton’s decision to reverse the initial booking for Fabio Silva for simulation after a VAR review before awarding Rangers a penalty for Alistair Johnston’s challenge on the Wolves loanee inside the box was the latest example of Rodgers' besieged position.

The Herald: Fabio Silva was initially shown a yellow card for simulation by referee John BeatonFabio Silva was initially shown a yellow card for simulation by referee John Beaton (Image: SNS)

READ MORE: Rangers manager defends Fabio Silva and aims thinly-veiled pundit dig

Did he have a point, though? In the current VAR landscape, all three of the big decisions were correct in the match. There was clear contact on Silva from Johnston’s lingering boot after he first made contact with the ball. But was the forward looking for the penalty? Does that matter?

Despite the fantasies of VAR officials, the truth is there is no scientific answer to these questions and the game's governing bodies really have to prioritise the clear-and-obvious threshold. Like Beaton in the heat of the moment, I certainly thought it was simulation. The slowed-down footage presented to the match official on his pitchside monitor showed clear contact between Johnston and the attacker, but is that to say that the referee's hunch that he was being conned by Silva was wrong?

Watch a replay of any challenge in any match and there will be contact between the two players at some point. Slow it down and focus only on the contact and you could dish out fouls every few seconds. There has to be space for officials to come to their own conclusions, a space the clear-and-obvious threshold is supposed to occupy. But clear-and-obvious has for a long time been abandoned by officials in Scotland, and this VAR review appeared to focus entirely on the contact Johnston made with Silva, which in the VAR-verse can mean only one thing.

The Herald: Referee John Beaton holds his head in his hand at full-timeReferee John Beaton holds his head in his hand at full-time (Image: SNS)

Talk about cognitive dissonance, Beaton must have felt like he had been beaten around the head. What is simulation if not a completely subjective rule? How can a VAR official claim to know for a fact what a player’s intentions are? It is one of the primary jobs of a referee to judge on this aspect of the game; slowed-down sequences of images “prove” nothing. This VAR intervention was just the latest example of its having an overbearing effect on the game.

Clement, fresh from celebrating his side’s 3-3 victory, later defended Silva against accusations of playacting in the derby before admitting he had had words with the player about (checks notes) his playacting in the derby. There are no straight lines in football. Which way will the wind blow in this title race? When is a draw a moral victory? Will the Dundee v Rangers match ever go ahead? We don’t know – and that’s the beauty of it.

The final derby of the season will no doubt break further records for viewing figures for this very reason. It’s about time officials realised football’s subjectivity is what fuels our burning interest in it and stop trying to make a junk science out of their supporting role in it.