Rangers’ title hopes took a huge and potentially detrimental blow after succumbing to a 3-2 defeat against Ross County in the Highlands.

After taking the lead through a Josh Baldwin own goal, Philippe Clement’s side never cemented their advantage. The home side failed to convert two glaring chances before the break but, in an astonishing second period, saw goals from Simon Murray, George Hannon and Josh Sims secure a huge win. James Tavernier’s late penalty was only a consolation. Never, after going behind, did the visiting side look likely to secure a result. 

Here are the big talking points dissected. 

A first half full of warning signs

While Rangers went ahead in the first half and sustained that one-goal lead until the break, with moments to add another, the hosts were always right in this tie. Make no mistake - this win was deserved. Harmon had the hosts’ best two chances attacking the back post early on from left-back and then spurning a cutback opportunity from eight yards. Clement’s men could’ve killed this game before the interval and yet, you couldn’t help but feel at half-time they were playing with a little fire. Failing to control the midfield and dropping far too deep on more than one occasion to a spell of Staggies pressure, Clement remonstrated with his side to squeeze up and gain territory. County were only behind due to their finishing rather than Rangers’ defensive efforts and moments after half-time the issues experienced before the break would come to full fruition. 

What went wrong after the break?

If Ross County were wasteful before half-time, they more than made up for it right after the interval. By 52 minutes the Ibrox side had seen their lead turned on its head. Rangers were sleepwalking into their title race crumbling having failed to heed warnings before the interval. Simon Murray restored parity after Jack Butland made an initial strong save before, three minutes later, the Staggies transitioned quickly up the pitch and after attacking quicker than their opponent’s recovered, found Harmon as an extra man at the back post to convert. This time the left-back was ruthless. The very fact it was Harmon who scored, guilty of missing such moments before the break, spoke volumes. It proved an anecdote for Rangers’ weakness on the day. Issues experienced before the break, a failure to dominate the midfield which led to County dominating second balls and accessing the final third all too readily, were obvious at each concession. When Clement turned to the bench and sacrificed Silva and Barisic in place of Matondo and Sterling, you couldn’t help but feel those changes should’ve come before the teams reemerged. Before long Josh Sims would add a third as, again, Rangers’ team-wide lack of intensity was well punished. 

Rangers Review:

Did the team selection set the tone?

Clement’s teams have been constantly hard to predict as the Belgian boss has sought to build fitness across his squad and retain sharpness. When 1-0 down away at Kilmarnock recently Clement opted to move at half-time and bring Ridvan Yilmaz on in place of Borna Barisic, this time there was no such alteration. The decision not to include Dujon Sterling, Rangers’ best player in the Old Firm, when he’d started ahead of Barisic the week before was proven to be the wrong one. Kieran Dowell, making his first start of the calendar year, saw this game pass him by in a midfield zone the home side dominated. To not change anything at the break felt like an error and Matondo and Sterling coming on as soon as the hosts scored their second appeared to confirm that fact. Clement got his team wrong in the Highlands and by the time alterations were made, it was too late.

You don’t win league titles playing like this

To lose like this, given how Rangers have so often won, felt so lacking in the intensity and focus this stage of the season merits. The title race still has time to go but this felt like a deciding afternoon. Rangers did not play like a team deserving of the title. Failing to heed warnings, by the time County started to swap their threats for assurances it was all too late. The very fact that Don Cowie’s side, well deserving of a historic result, scored another before the visitors could equalise was indicative of Rangers’ showing. When Clement’s side head to Dundee they can no longer go top of the table with a Parkhead strip still to come. It looks as though to win this title the Ibrox side will need to win an Old Firm away from home. Sometimes football can be simple. Rangers’ issue wasn’t tactical. They were outran in so many instances and lost duels all too often. Tavernier’s late penalty offered hope that was too late to spark a revival.