Rangers’ big test in the title race was supposed to have come over a month ago - and it was one they passed with flying colours.

Emphatically beating an in-form Hearts 5-0 at Ibrox before coming from behind at Rugby Park four days later to remain top of the Scottish Premiership in late February having won 18 of 20 league matches since regime change. These were games and this was pressure that had tripped up previous seasons and a, seemingly, more favourable run of fixtures was on the horizon. Had a corner now been turned?

Last night’s dropped points against Dundee may not yet be fatal in terms of the title, but within the context of a deserved defeat in Dingwall days prior, there's an unshakable terminal feeling.

Philippe Clement insisted that Rangers did show a reaction following their 3-2 defeat against Ross County, arguing that hitting the net was all that was missing. The Belgian is a straight communicator but last night’s messaging had a hint of protection after criticising the squad days previously.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted. We were the only team to deserve this result this evening in the possession, in the chances also,” he told the assembled press last night at Dens.

“The clear chances. But you need to put the ball against the net. And you also need some luck sometimes.”

On one hand, Clement is justified in his assessment. The xG fell 1.47 to 0.49 in Rangers’ favour last night. Unlike the weekend they restricted their opponent to very few opportunities and shaded moments in front of goal.

Conversely, only 0.4xG of that total came after the break and only one chance had a greater value than 0.13xG, Abdallah Sima’s shot in transition early in last night’s game. When Dundee were behind the ball the Ibrox side struggled to break their shape. The trade-off for Rangers not losing the ball in dangerous areas and thus not conceding counterattacks was a lack of territorial control as pass after pass went astray. They've not played like a side who will win the league ever since leaving Kilmarnock with three points and last night was more of the same. They didn't chase the game like a team that badly required maximum points. 

Clement’s style of play has been direct away from home for some time, as highlighted in early December by the Rangers Review. The difference last night was no result followed and without points, there was not much to celebrate. The desire to turn defences and attack directly can lead to a trade-off of control. As we wrote in early December: “Last night's win does not mean Clement’s side will not have to improve their methods against pressure, they absolutely do. That trade-off for control arguably worked against Rangers during the early stages at Pittodrie, for example.”

John Lundstram has improved overall under Clement while seeing his form evaporate in recent weeks. He is not, and has never been, a dictator of play from the base of midfield. Not since Steven Davis stopped playing regularly in that role have the Ibrox club been properly staffed in midfield. Nico Raskin sat on the bench yesterday, brought in last January to try and plug that gap, further underlined the recruitment issues Rangers have experienced. This squad is a culmination of different manager's ideas. Only cohesive thinking beyond the lifespan of the man in the dugout can fix a squad profile issue Clement has inherited. 

READ MORE:  Why Rangers are conceding so many counterattacks and Clement's plan to stop it

Injuries cannot be ignored. For so long Clement has worked with square pegs in round holes and continually missed influential individuals. Ridvan Yilmaz was likely Rangers' best player in 2024 before suffering an injury on international duty. That was the same story when Sima returned from AFCON with a thigh problem in January that kept him sidelined until April. Oscar Cortes looked as bright as any Rangers attacker before suffering a season-ending injury at Rugby Park. Danilo was Clement’s pick ahead of Cyriel Dessers before a knee issue requiring surgery materialised in December. Ross McCausland’s balance and variation on the right was more important than most realised - the winger hasn’t started since that defeat against Motherwell when a heavy challenge from Dan Casey saw him limp off.

The team’s structure, as covered in recent days, hasn’t recovered since the Hearts and Kilmarnock double-header. Ridvan has missed the previous four games and when Borna Barisic has replaced him, gaping holes in transitions have appeared on the left flank. That’s resulted in Dujon Sterling moving deeper when his energy is required higher up the pitch. The 24-year-old played ahead of Tavernier against Hearts and as a substitute against Kilmarnock. Without a natural winger ahead of him, Tavernier’s form has suffered too. No attacking player has been in form for weeks.

Rangers’ xG season trendline, based on a five-game rolling average, shows two dips and dives. Clement’s men were defensively sound enough over the winter period to survive on fewer chances before raising their levels in February with excellent showings against Ross County, Aberdeen and Hearts.

In the five games since the 2-1 win in Kilmarnock, the underlying numbers have trended in the wrong direction.

Including the home defeat against Motherwell, Clement’s side have underperformed at both ends during that five-game stretch. They’ve scored six goals from 9.78xG, an underperformance of nearly four goals.

Meanwhile, a previously impressive defence had started to leak goals by conceding eight strikes from 5.64xG.

Amongst all the conversations surrounding mentality, Rangers’ early concession of chances has proven most representative. Conceding after mere seconds in the Old Firm, conceding a chance against George Harmon within 90 seconds during both halves against Ross County that eventually materialised in a goal. Dundee had their first effort inside the box before the clock struck one minute yesterday. The general malaise of March is visible in the tempo of performance. 

The Rangers squad appear to have not recovered from the shock of losing against Motherwell. Unable to claw back the goodwill and trust they’d worked so hard to earn, a draw in Dundee was more of the same.