Scottish Premiership: How does Ross County’s win over Rangers leave title race with Celtic?

Rangers centre-half John Souttar shows his disappointment
Rangers lost to Ross County for the first time ever

“From what was a very strong position for Rangers, it becomes a very strong position for Celtic” thanks to one historic afternoon in Dingwall.

Former Scotland striker John Robertson was responding to Ross County’s first-ever win over the visitors from Glasgow.

Philippe Clement’s side had headed to the Highlands eyeing maximum points from two games in hand within four days that would take them top of the Scottish Premiership again by two points.

Instead, their 3-2 defeat leaves Rangers four adrift of the reigning champions and with games fast running out to overhaul their city rivals.

It now looks like Rangers will have to win the final Old Firm derby of the season – having already failed to do so on three occasions this season – to have any chance of a 56th Scottish title. And do so at Celtic Park.

Worst defensive display under Clement?

Then leaders Rangers were were let off the hook in early March when their last domestic slip up, a home defeat by Motherwell, was followed the next day by Heart of Midlothian’s victory over Celtic.

However, the warning signs were possibly there that Rangers’ previous 11-game winning run masked an element of fragility.

Clement’s side earned another reprieve last weekend when they gifted Celtic a 2-0 lead and also came from 3-2 behind to earn a draw that kept his side a point behind but with a game in hand.

When that game, away to Dundee, was postponed for a second time because of the state of the Dens Park pitch, Celtic were handed the opportunity to establish a four-point lead before Rangers took the long road north.

Rangers had responded well under Clement to overhaul the seven-point deficit that led to Michael Beale’s sacking in October, but how would they react after what the Belgian described as “a crazy week”?

The statistics from Dingwall suggest not very well.

County’s expected goals value of 2.96 is by far the highest any team have had against Rangers this season. Compare that to Celtic’s xG of 1.96 last weekend at Ibrox, while Aberdeen’s was 1.62 in their 3-1 win at Ibrox back in September.

It is also the highest xG Rangers have conceded in a single game since Opta started collecting Premiership data in 2019-20.

Clement laments ‘strange week’

Instead of singling out his defence for blame, Clement suggested that “with or without the ball, it wasn’t good enough” and that his players had failed to heed his half-time warning that their 1-0 lead was a slender one.

Rangers also failed to find the net in open play, the opening goal coming from a Jack Baldwin own goal and they reduced the deficit late on through a James Tavernier penalty.

“We had a really strange week in preparation towards this game with not the training we wanted, but it’s not an excuse,” Clement told BBC Scotland.

Asked what the defeat meant for the title race, the Belgian would not be drawn.

“That’s mathematics, but I’ve never been busy about that,” he said. “Now it is about reaction really strong on Wednesday to take the three points.”

Now they must face Dundee in the final game before the Premiership splits in two for the final five fixtures and with uncertainty over whether Dens Park is capable of hosting the fixture.

“It’s difficult to plan things because it’s not clear where we are going to play,” Clement complained. “At least we know we can plan training to play on Wednesday somewhere in Scotland.”

‘Pressure’ on after ‘massive day’

Albeit two of them were against Benfica in the Europa League, Rangers have now only won twice in seven outings at the same time as Celtic have gone five without loss, winning all but that city derby while also welcoming back some key players from injury.

As Robertson pointed out, “nobody could deny that County deserved” their first victory over Rangers after 20 previous defeats and four draws.

“The big thing today, which will be alarming if you are a Rangers fan, was the lack of desire from the team,” he told BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound. “They never deserved anything out of this game.

“We called it at half-time. Rangers weren’t out of second gear. When County got the goal and then the second, the belief came surging through and Rangers never got to grips with their intensity.”

Robertson reckons relegation-threatened County’s win is a “massive day at both ends of the table”.

“Rangers now have to go to Celtic Park and win,” he said. “Celtic know that, if they draw with Rangers and win their other four matches, they win the title.

“Rangers cannot make any more mistakes. They must win the last six matches of the season to win the title and, based on today’s performance, I can’t see them doing it.”

The overriding thing I will take away from today. The County players seemed to embrace the position they were in and realise what they had to do to get out of it. Rangers did not embrace the position they are in.”

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