THE shock defeat that Rangers slumped to against Ross County up in Dingwall on Sunday looks like being far more than just an unfortunate blip for the Ibrox club – it could very well prove to be the beginning of the end.

The Govan giants desperately needed to put their 3-2 loss at the Global Energy Stadium behind them in their rearranged cinch Premiership match against Dundee at Dens Park tonight to get their faltering challenge back on track.

Once again, though, Philippe Clement’s men were found badly wanting. They were held to a 0-0 draw by Tony Docherty’s charges. It was another serious blow to their title aspirations.  They are now three points behind leaders Celtic in the table with just five games remaining.

Even if Rangers emerge victorious from the derby at Parkhead next month – and that is a very big if given that they have not won there in four years and none of their supporters will be in attendance - they will need to take maximum points from all of their remaining matches and their city rivals to slip up. 

That appears about as likely as Livingston avoiding relegation to the Championship on the evidence of another uninspired display on Tayside. James Tavernier and his team mates huffed and puffed from kick-off to the final whistle. But at no stage in proceedings did they look like champions in waiting.

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The Viaplay Cup champions won 11 consecutive games after their loss in the East End in December. They have now, though, come out on top just twice in their last eight outings. It is by no means over. Arithmetically, they can still do it. However, they will have to start playing an awful lot better than they have been of late to resurrect their ailing hopes.

The return of key men Cameron Carter-Vickers, Reo Hatate and Callum McGregor from injury in recent weeks coupled with their record against their ancient adversaries this term mean that Celtic are now firm favourites to prevail once again this term.  

This was the third attempt to stage the Dundee v Rangers fixture – it had first been called off due to a badly waterlogged pitch exactly a month ago and was postponed for the same reason last week.

It was, though, hard to see what the problem had been as the evening sunshine bathed the playing surface as both sets of players warmed up. Neither goalmouth looked particularly clever and there were a couple of iffy looking patches in both halves. However, conditions underfoot did not appear to be causing anyone any particular problems. 

Clement, who had managed to keep his spirits up despite the humiliation his charges suffered in their previous outing, made light of the whole sorry saga when he spoke to BBC Radio Scotland before kick-off. “They have put some green paint on it so it looks better," he said.

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Whoever was in control of the public address system inside the stadium clearly had an impish sense of humour as well. A series of rain-themed songs blared out of the speakers ahead of the match and at half-time. They might not be feeling so chipper when the SPFL investigation into the call-offs is concluded and they learn what disciplinary action is being taken against them. 

Clement was expected to make extensive changes after his side’s Highland embarrassment and he duly did so. Dujon Sterling took over from Borna Barisic at left back, Tom Lawrence was preferred to Kieran Dowell in central midfield and Kemar Roofe replaced Cyriel Dessers up front.

Would the trio ensure there was no repeat of the subdued showing three days earlier and that no more priceless points were leaked? Hopes were high among the travelling supporters who filled every available seat in the Bob Shankly Stand.

Fans of the Glasgow giants have been pretty buoyant in recent weeks. The Bouncy has been a regular feature in the stands during their games as they have moved into a commanding position in the league. Chants of “F*** you Celtic we’re going to win the league” have also been given frequent airings.

There was more of a defiant air in the away end when the action finally got underway. When Malachi Boateng shot just past the post in the very first minute following a weak headed clearance by Sterling, though, they must have experienced a collective feeling of déjà vu. Their fears were well-founded.

Boos rang out from the stands which housed the Dark Blues faithful early on when Rangers continued to attack despite Dundee captain Joe Shaughnessy going down injured. The visitors’ questionable sportsmanship was perhaps an indication of what was at stake.

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Dundee, who clinched a top six spot with a draw against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Saturday, had a goal disallowed for offside in the opening 45 minutes. But they had their keeper Jon McCracken, who denied Abdallah Sima twice, tipped a James Tavernier free-kick wide and saved a Connor Goldson header, to thank for keeping them level. 

That said, it was not exactly a Rangers display to inspire confidence in their followers. It was unreasonable to expect them to romp to a 5-0 win, the scoreline they recorded when they last travelled to Tayside at the beginning of November, again. Still, they were nowhere near their best.

Sima, who returned from the injury he suffered when he was away with Senegal at the African Cup of Nations in January against Hibernian earlier this month, made a huge difference down the right flank. Jack Butland did well whenever he was called into action.  But nobody else particularly impressed. Their play was high on endeavour, low on quality.

Clement had seen enough nine minutes into the second-half and made a triple substitution – he took off Roofe, Fabio Silva and Todd Cantwell and put on Dessers, Rabbi Matondo and Kieran Dowell respectively. The replacements failed to make the impact he hoped they would.  

Dessers, who had passed up a few gilt-edged opportunities against County, broke forward curled a shot towards the top left corner of the Dundee goal in the 72nd minute. But McCracken was equal to his fine effort. It was just one of those days for Rangers. There have been far too many of them in the past couple of months.