Strikers win you games, defences win you titles. If Rangers somehow win the Premiership, they will have overcome the odds and their own shortcomings. This is, after all, a side that has issues across the park.

The defeat to Ross County on Sunday was the perfect case in point. In one third, Rangers lacked guile and goals and it says much about the wastefulness of their attacking endeavours that a Jack Baldwin own goal and penalty from James Tavernier was all they could muster against a side that sit second bottom of the league. The irony was not lost on supporters that Philippe Clement’s side finally scored from a corner, but it wasn’t one of their own men that put the ball across the line. A midfield that was played through far too easily exposed a nervous defence that spread anxiety throughout everyone in red, white and blue.

The opener was unmerited for Rangers. Come the final whistle, the visitors got exactly what they deserved. An abject performance left them pointless and the flood of comment and criticism was like a dam bursting. Many members of this squad have, of course, seen it all before.

And that is what makes this situation, entirely predictable and entirely self-inflicted, all the more galling for supporters. They knew the same players were capable of making the same mistakes, but they believed that this time it could and would be different. As it stands, the outcome will be familiar. Rangers are six wins away from the title - and just eight on the spin from a treble - but they feel as far away now as they have done for some time. Clement has a job on his hands to make this squad believe in themselves once again, but the undertaking of ensuring the support have that same sense of faith may well be a futile one.

“Yeah of course but it doesn't matter how fast the lead was lost, there were too many mistakes made in our defensive part which is not usual from our team, Clement said when asked about the start to the second half in the Highlands. “Since we've been together we've been the team who conceded the least goals in this five, six months. There were some strange goals to concede and we didn't score enough with the opportunities we had. In the end we give a lot of energy to our opponent and all credit to Ross County who defended with a big heart until the end. We need to see the opposition team don't get so much energy by being better with and without the ball.”

Clement’s first chance to do just that will come an hour or so before a ball is kicked against Dundee on Wednesday evening. Calls for changes in personnel will reach a crescendo and Clement’s selection will be fiercely debated. Does he give the same players - most pointedly Connor Goldson and John Souttar - the opportunity to rectify their mistakes? Or does he make them pay the price and break up a partnership that has been in place for every minute, apart from the injury time period against Celtic, since Leon Balogun started at home to Livingston in early February?

READ MORE: Alarming 'worst in  6 seasons' trend that shows Rangers deserved Ross County loss

A serious facial injury sustained in the early stages of that fixture has resulted in a lengthy absence but Balogun has been fit some time now. He wore a mask in training to ensure he was available for selection as soon as possible, yet Clement – who has so often made alterations with his starting line-up this season – elected to keep the Goldson and Souttar partnership together. 

A return for Balogun would be a popular decision in the eyes of many supporters. In some ways, and this is no disrespect to a fine player, personable guy and committed professional, that sums up Rangers’ issues at centre-back this season. A stop-gap could become the saviour. Balogun returned to Ibrox in the summer after Leon King sustained an injury in pre-season that didn’t transpire to be as serious as initially feared and established himself under Michael Beale and then Clement. King has barely had a look in, while Ben Davies has become a forgotten figure and there is no clamour for him to return to the side ahead of what looks like being an inevitable Ibrox exit come the end of the campaign.

At 35, Balogun is not the future for Rangers. Yet Clement cannot look any further ahead than tomorrow evening and a place for the Nigerian internationalist may just be the spark that Rangers require. Balogun remains an imposing physical specimen and still has a turn of foot that belies his years, yet there is a danger, as with so many members of this squad, that they become better players in the eyes of supporters when they are not in the side. His inclusion would allow his partner to operate on their natural right side and give Rangers balance at the back, but the question is who then comes out for Balogun to come back in?

History would suggest that Souttar is the one that will make way. Goldson has been such a dominant figure, both on and off the field, throughout his Rangers career and it has always been a case of who – whether it be Souttar, Balogun or Davies or the likes of Filip Helander or Nikola Katic in years gone by – starts with him rather than who replaces him. Given his form, Clement is almost in a Catch 22 situation.

In 13 league matches under Clement, Goldson and Souttar have an average of 0.92xG/conceded. For comparison, in nine matches that Balogun has partnered with Goldson, the figure is an average of 0.54xG conceded. The numbers point to a stronger pairing but the one between Souttar and Balogun remains largely untried and untested. Is it now time for Clement to give it a go?

A place for Balogun against Dundee and in the matches to come would be no silver bullet for Rangers. It must be remembered that he has had difficult moments this season – such as in the 1-1 draw at Pittodrie and Old Firm defeat at Parkhead – and Clement has had several chances to bring him back into the team and declined to do so. Issues surrounding the quality at the top end of the park will still be prevalent but looking to address the problems in defence would be seen as a progressive step by a support who want something, anything, tried in the search of success.

READ MORE: How Rangers can reignite title bid: No more rotation, Clement's calls and mentality

The defeat in Dingwall recorded the highest xG total conceded by Rangers in a single league game in the past six seasons. It was a matter of mistakes snowballing and catching up with Rangers. Teams that see themselves as champions rather than challengers simply don’t produce performances or record results like this at this stage of the season. Individual decision making errors and collective structure concerns have steadily crept in over recent weeks and will prove fatal if not addressed next time out.

It was once the foundation that Clement built on. Now it has become the first piece to fall as Rangers’ title bid has started to crumble. The initial wounds were inflicted in the defeat to Motherwell last month, on an afternoon where Souttar was culpable for Theo Bair’s opener and Goldson was given a torrid afternoon by the Steelmen striker. Losing six goals to Celtic and County has cost Clement’s side another five points and momentum has dissipated as well.

The full-backs certainly don't get a free pass but Tavernier won't be dropped and Borna Barisic only played due to Ridvan Yilmaz's injury-enforced absence. The warning shot of a George Harmon chance, which really should have been converted, inside the opening minute was not taken on board. Either were Clement’s words at the interval as Rangers self-combusted inside three minutes, Simon Murray and Harmon scoring in quick succession to turn the game, and the title race on its head. When Josh Sims made it 3-1, that was that. The same could now be said in the title race.

READ MORE: Bobby Russell exclusive - Ibrox legend details story from Easterhouse to Eindhoven

Clement, understandably, did not want to throw his players under the bus in the aftermath of the loss but the coach trip back down the A9 would have been a time for soul searching and perhaps tough talking. The goals that Rangers conceded were laughable, inexcusable. He pinpointed communication and positioning as two of the areas that were an issue and stated that it would be discussed on Monday.

A furious fan base started those conversations while the match was still ongoing. Images of inquests being held and fingers being pointed have been commonplace throughout the careers of so many of these players and four in particular - Tavernier, Goldson, Barisic and John Lundstram - have been involved in those scenes way too often over the years. This was a trend continuing.

The damage has been done and the coming weeks will show how costly it proves to be. Sunday was not the day that the dream died, but it did feel like the beginning of the end for Rangers. The core of this squad on the brink of another failure. The consequences of that should be far more significant than just being dropped to the bench.