Celtic and Rangers' combined inadequacies should carry a health warning and neither look like champions – Keith Jackson

Rangers' John Souttar and Celtic's Kyogo Furuhash -Credit:SNS Group
Rangers' John Souttar and Celtic's Kyogo Furuhash -Credit:SNS Group

Granted, the Scottish government has a considerable amount on its plate at the moment.

But, even so, someone somewhere inside the house on the hill may have to take a moment over the coming days to consider if the time has come to issue a public health warning, where this season’s climax to the domestic football season is concerned. Because, while neither Rangers nor Celtic appear to have the heart to finish off the job they started back in August, the consequence of their combined inadequacies can’t possibly be good for the old ticker.

The nation’s stress levels were in serious danger of disappearing off the charts yesterday all the way from Ferguslie Park to Broughty Ferry as the pair of them took it in turns to test the blood pressure of their own supporters. And if this is the way they mean to continue over the course of the next four weeks, then we’ll be counting the casualties up before it’s all over and one of them emerges with the trophy in hand.

Yes, they might well shrug and wonder what all the fuss is about given that both of them took three points from awkward away venues in the first weekend of post split fixtures. But the truth is neither of them look much like champions right now and the deficiencies are so noticeable that even their own fans can see them.

Brendan Rodgers says his players can be relied upon to get their trophy heads on at this point in the season but they were a frazzled and confused bunch at Dens Park yesterday afternoon. Had it not been for an old campaigner in James Forrest they might have been sent packing from the Scot Foam. But, having finally convinced Rodgers to give him a game, Forrest scored one stunning volley and then pick-pocketed a second goal just when it seemed Celtic were in monumental danger against a highly impressive Dundee side.

But not even the doubling of their lead could settle Celtic’s nerves. So when sub Adam Idah deflected the ball into the back of his own net with 15 minutes still to play, it did feel as if anything might happen before ref John Beaton’s final whistle. Michael Mellon could have levelled in injury time but his header hit the wrong side of Joe Hart’s net and from that moment the vastly experienced keeper did all he could to wind down the clock until Dundee’s time was up.

He was even booked by Beaton for being so utterly blatant about it which, in itself, is a clear sign that Celtic are huffing and puffing their way into the final stretch. They may have a three point lead as a cushion and that could be useful given that they look capable of falling over at any point.

And it’s much the same story on the other side of Glasgow’s divide for a Rangers side which has been wobbling its way towards the line from some distance out. What happens in the Highlands is supposed to stay in the Highlands.

But Rangers are discovering the very worst of themselves almost anywhere and everywhere this title challenge takes them to. And that means, try as he might to write Ross County off as some inexplicable, freakish mishap, Philippe Clement is having to learn some unwanted lessons about the makeup of his own dressing room.

It turns out, that painful 3-2 defeat wasn’t just a blip. It was anything but. Yes, Rangers got out of Paisley with all three points on this occasion thanks in chief to a couple of slapstick moments of St Mirren defending but, with so much at stake, this was just the latest in a long line of limp wristed, leaderless and lacklustre 90 minutes. A lucky win which they did not do nearly enough to truly deserve.

If truth be told, it carried all manner of flashbacks to that spineless defeat in Dingwall which did so much damage to their title ambitions. Clement won’t wish to admit it - of course he won’t - but it transpires that capitulation was merely a sign of the struggles still to come.

Celtic's James Forrest scores his second goal of the game to make it 2-0
Celtic's James Forrest scores his second goal of the game to make it 2-0

A dreary, dismal display from a side which has neither the force of will nor the mental fortitude required to haul itself over the finishing line. And if that was in any doubt then they rolled into Paisley yesterday and turned in an almost identical performance only to escape with a win in spite of their own shoddy, unconvincing efforts.

For a long while it did feel as if this would be the day they would finally run up the white flag and concede the title with a half hearted whimper. But, having lended a helping hand with the opening goal in the first half, St Mirren’s keeper Zach Hemming and defender James Bolton, got in another muddle 17 minutes from time to give Cyriel Dessers a free header at an empty net.

The Nigerian striker can’t always be trusted to make the most of such generosity but this was a chance he could not possibly miss and when he hit the back of the net from close range, Rangers were effectively handed a get out of jail free card. These things can come in handy when attempting to break the monopoly Celtic have of the top flight title but Rangers may have used up the last of their luck yesterday lunchtime. If they continue to perform so erratically then this run-in will quickly get away from them and it’s hard to fathom why they have suddenly become so lifeless at such a critical moment in the campaign.

The warning signs were flashing on that disastrous day in Dingwall right from the opening exchanges and it was the same again yesterday. First, Dessers stood back and allowed Alex Rogic - who was outstanding from start to finish - to win a free header. Then skipper James Tavernier was caught napping as Mikael Mandron skipped away from him to fire the first shot of the day at Jack Butland.

Leon Balogun blundered in possession and almost caused Butland another serious fright before John Lundstram was just as sloppy, giving the ball away in the middle of the pitch and allowing St Mirren to break on his side again. All of that carelessness in the space of three opening minutes. And, having watched this movie before, surely Clement sensed straight away that he was in for another long and uncomfortable afternoon.

And so now it all rolls over onto next weekend when Hearts arrive at Parkhead and Kilmarnock make the trip to Ibrox. And not even the prospect of playing at home this time round will help calm some of the nerves which are fraying all over the city.

Fans of both clubs know they can no longer place their trust in their team with any level of confidence. From here on in, they’ll be reduced to watching on from the sidelines and hoping for the best.