Philippe Clement's Rangers mood swings in step with 'bang average' Celtic title race - Hugh Keevins

The brutal truth of the matter, as exemplified and underlined by Rangers’ recent collapse in form, is that the Premiership title is being contested by two bang average Old Firm teams.

But mundanity doesn’t minimise the bragging rights and the league winners will not be subjected to unfavourable comparisons with past, and superior, sides who have worn the same shirt. You wouldn’t hear any debate on the matter for the sound of hysterical celebrations in the background in any case. Quality comes a long way behind one-upmanship in today’s world.

A state of mind that will be audible and visible at Hampden today. There are no “moral winners” in Scottish Cup semi-finals. No draws and no second chances. You are either in or out of the competition. No laps of honour, only the walk of shame if you perish at the penultimate stage. If Rangers beat Hearts they get them to keep. Four meetings in the league and the Viaplay Cup with the Tynecastle side have resulted in quadruple wins for Philippe Clement’s side.

It would be difficult to make a cogent case for Steven Naismith’s team rewriting the past when the weight of history against them is so oppressive. Except for one thing.

If what happened to Clement’s side against Ross County in Dingwall last Sunday offered conclusive proof of anything, it was of football’s capacity for allowing the unpredictable to lead to the unexpected. There was no feasible reason why the second- bottom team in the league should have overcome the one in second-top place after gifting them a goal of a start. But they did.

The game in the Highlands, incidentally, fell on the 112th anniversary of the Titanic hitting the iceberg and sinking with all hands
on deck. A grisly omen for Rangers’ championship chances, given what then followed at Dundee on Wednesday, or an irrelevant coincidence?

Clement will say coincidence because he only deals in practicalities. Even if he has taken to being a less-than-reliable witness, if his post-match conduct is anything to go by.

I had only just finished writing here last weekend that the manager should resist getting caught up in the madness associated with our game than he was captured on television while storming off to the dressing room without shaking the hand of his opposite number Don Cowie. I know he came back out later and apologised for his behavioural bypass – but his personality is now more prickly than it was when he first arrived here.

His reading of the game at Dens Park, for instance, must surely have been an attempt to publicly reassure, and placate, the fans who are now in revolt over what they’re watching. But Clement’s assertion of Rangers’ dominance didn’t equate with the post-match reaction of a travelling support patently aggrieved by what they had seen.

Credibility is now on the line at the National Stadium where Hearts have never beaten Rangers, and where the creation of an exception to the rule becomes a concern under current circumstances. Clement’s mood swings will be put to the test if anything goes wrong, particularly if Hearts’ captain Lawrence Shankland has anything to do with souring the occasion for Rangers.

Clement was advised often enough during the January transfer window that signing Shankland could tip the balance in the title race. But the manager showed no inclination whatsoever to make any move for a player he had seen at first hand when both were working in Belgium.

This afternoon will tell if Clement’s indifference was justified or questionable. As things stand, he could do with it being the former and not the latter.