I STRONGLY disagree. No, not the customary response from the sports editor whenever I present him with this column. This was instead the retort from Tony Docherty to suggestions from his Rangers counterpart, Philippe Clement, that his side deserved to win their Premiership encounter at Dundee on Wednesday night.

For anyone other than the Belgian who watched the 0-0 draw unfold, it was hard to dispute Docherty’s take.

The Herald: Dundee manager Tony Docherty shakes hands with Philippe Clement at full-timeDundee manager Tony Docherty shakes hands with Philippe Clement at full-time (Image: PA)

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Football managers, along with the myriad other responsibilities which consume them, have the responsibility for holding the baton as conductors of the mood music around their club. Hence, after a draw against their closest rivals in the title race at home earlier this month, the Belgian maestro opted to describe the point gained as a “moral victory” after leading the supporters inside Ibrox after full-time with a rousing, fist-punching, let’s-get-this-thing-done-then victory lap following Rabbi Matondo’s emphatic injury-time leveller.

The problem for the Rangers manager is the band have been sagging for some time – and that draw at home to their rivals was, in reality, a missed opportunity for his side.

Since a 2-1 home reverse to Motherwell in the Premiership at the start of March, Rangers have fallen off a cliff with just two victories in their last eight matches. The 1-0 defeat to Benfica in their Europa League round-of-16 second leg at Ibrox punctured all the optimism raised from qualifying from their group – and failure to win that third derby of the season at home to their rivals could prove to be the catalyst for Celtic going on to clinch three-in-a-row.

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

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What should concern Clement more than perceived moral injustices is the cold nature of the results themselves. He need only look at the long list of his predecessors in Ally McCoist, Mark Warburton, Pedro Caixinha, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Michael Beale, along with a host of interim incumbents, in the dugout since 2012 on that front.

When McCoist failed in the final leg of “the journey” back up the divisions after the club’s collapse in 2012, as Robbie Neilson’s Hearts romped to the Championship title in 2015, the runners-up found themselves in the position of Hollywood A-lister auditioning for the part in the Premiership play-off final against Motherwell. Again, this should have been pass-straight-through territory with Motherwell the worst form team in the country at the time. Over two legs, however, Bilel Mohsni et al contrived to blow up their big opportunity right in the faces of their long-suffering supporters to prolong the purgatory for another season.

This falling at the final hurdle has become a worrying trend for the Ibrox club since. When Rangers put the mortgage on former city banker Warburton, the Englishman – who brought in current club captain James Tavernier from Wigan during his first season – delivered their return to the Premiership at a canter and threw in a bonus Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Ronnie Deila’s Celtic in 2016.

Cue delirious assertions from Rangers fans that they were “back”, the “banter years” were over, and silverware was ready to rain down on Ibrox once more. Rangers failed to lift the Scottish Cup in the final against Hibernian, of course – another worrying tumble at the last. But not even the arrival of former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers across the city could quell the impression that Rangers were coming for their old rivals.

The Herald: Celtic celebrate Moussa Dembele's goal in a derby hammering of Rangers in 2016Celtic celebrate Moussa Dembele's goal in a derby hammering of Rangers in 2016 (Image: SNS)

READ MORE: Philippe Clement insists Rangers were the 'boss' of Dundee

Until the first 5-1, that is. That was the scoreline in the initial Premiership derby of the season at Celtic Park in 2016, and it set the tone for Rodgers’ entire first spell in the Parkhead dugout. Four trebles in a row followed and Celtic drowned out the now noise that had been emanating from the south side of the city. Not even the fanfare of Rodgers’ former Anfield protegee Steven Gerrard being unveiled as the hapless Caixinha’s successor in 2018 could stem the tide of silverware washing up on Celtic’s shores.

Then Covid hit. The unsettling effects of the lockdowns that dominated Gerrard’s third full season seemed to knock Celtic off their perch. Lennon’s side capitulated as Gerrard’s Rangers romped to the 2020/21 title, and once again the feeling coming out of Ibrox was that the tide had finally swung in their favour. But it proved to be another false dawn.

The arrival of a virtual unknown manager in Ange Postecoglou and his “we-never-stop” mantra was intravenously delivered back into the bloodstream of the Parkhead club and a double was delivered with minimal fuss. Gerrard had followed his old mentor Rodgers to the Premier League to take the Aston Villa job in November, and Postecoglou made mincemeat of Van Bronckhorst then Beale in his two seasons in charge, clinching a fifth treble in seven years before departing for Tottenham last summer.

Van Bronckhorst, of course, had led the Ibrox side back to a European final in 2022. It was an incredible achievement by the former Netherlands internationalist. But the Europa League final shootout defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in Seville was the latest stumble at the last hurdle to afflict the Ibrox club.

While it may seem harsh to criticise such a narrow miss on such a lofty platform, the result of the Dutchman’s underwhelming start to the following campaign ultimately cost him his job. That demonstrated how inconsequential his relative success was in the eyes of the Ibrox support when their arch-rivals continued to lift the domestic silverware left, right and centre around them.

The Herald: Giovannie van Bronckhorst came agonisingly close to Europa League gloryGiovannie van Bronckhorst came agonisingly close to Europa League glory (Image: SNS)

READ MORE: Tony Docherty applauds Dundee for going 'toe-to-toe' with Rangers

Likewise, his replacement Beale, whom many applied great credit to for Gerrard’s 2021 title success as the England legend’s No.2 that season, suffered the consequences of an underwhelming start to his first full season in charge despite stringing together a run of positive results after taking over from Van Bronckhorst midway through the previous campaign. And that brings us back to Clement now. Does it not sound vaguely familiar?

While the mood around the Ibrox club since Clement’s arrival remains generally optimistic, winning the Viaplay Cup in December adding some much-sought-after trophy success, Celtic have kept the beat this season despite Rodgers’ own stumbles along the way – not least at the first hurdle in that competition. The difference with Celtic, and Rodgers in particular, is that other than that Covid-inflicted catastrophe under Lennon in 2020/21, they have been over the course and consistently come out on top.

This is all why proclamations of victory in the wake of failing to win will not stack up for Clement at Rangers. Not only does it risk damaging his credibility in general, the Ibrox support do not have form for suffering failure to win lightly. Make no mistake, the opportunity has been there for Clement and Rangers this – and their supporters know this.

Should Rangers fail to catch their rivals in the final straight, as seems almost inevitable now that they have slipped three points behind with just five matches remaining, including a visit to Celtic Park next month, what should concern the Rangers manager most going into his first full campaign in charge is that, for those of us who have been following the club’s fortunes closely over the last decade or so, Tavernier & Co’s serial failure to deliver will not have come as any real surprise.

No, they won’t be the moral victors, nor will they have deserved to win if Celtic go on to clinch the title. It is up to the Belgian now to work out where that recurring failure comes from and fix it – if not this season, then very soon after. Failure to do so will see him join a long list of his predecessors.