This is the last thing Rangers need in tightest of title fights (2024)

Victory over Celtic last Sunday would have taken Rangers back to the summit of the Premiership. Following that up with a win over Dundee last night would have stretched their lead to five points with six games remaining.

Philippe Clement could have reached out and wrapped a hand around the league trophy.

In football, even the best-laid plans have a habit of going awry. Four days can feel like a lifetime.

While a point against Celtic was an upgrade on defeat, it was no match for all three. The subsequent fiasco surrounding Dundee’s pitch has only added to the frustration within Ibrox.

One wasted trip on March 17 was bad enough. Last night the rearranged game fell foul of persistent rain and industrial negligence by a Dark Blues hierarchy so fixated on pursuing a new stadium they’ve stopped maintaining the one they already have.

Dundee's match with Rangers was postponed for a second time over a waterlogged pitch

The latest postponement is the last thingPhilippe Clement's side wanted in the title race

A blistering Rangers statement accused Dundee of ‘negligence’ and ‘unprofessionalism’. While the Ibrox club have stopped short of demanding the three points, they are deeply unimpressed by the league’s handling of the whole business. In hindsight, Rangers might wish they’d simply gone ahead and played the rearranged game last midweek, the first available date.

With a game against Celtic on the horizon, a request was made to the SPFL board — on which Ibrox chief executive James Bisgrove sits — to push the game back by a week. Dundee agreed and the league had no objection. Given four previous postponements at Dens Park due to a waterlogged pitch, it was always a risky strategy.

Rangers’ management and players travelled to Dundee after a training session on Tuesday knowing their latest jaunt would probably finish up the same as the last one.

An 11am pitch inspection by referee Don Robertson ruled that the surface was playable.

With heavy rain predicted for the afternoon, however, travelling fans held off on leaving home until a second inspection at 3.30pm, when Robertson ruled that the surface was unsafe.

The game will now be played — with luck and a fair wind — next Wednesday night.

‘I did an initial inspection at 11am and the pitch was playable at that point,’ said Robertson.

‘The ball was bouncing and travelling through those areas where it was wet and, not ideal, but playable.

RefereeDon Robertson deemed the pitch unplayable following a second pitch inspection

Robertson determined areas of the Dens Park pitch would be unsafe for the players to play on

‘Obviously everyone is quite aware of the issues Dundee have had with their pitch.

‘Everyone was aware of the forecast for heavy rain in the area this afternoon.

‘That’s why we agreed on a pitch inspection for 3.30 to see how the pitch looked once the rain arrived.

‘The pitch deteriorated quite a lot in that time. There was an area of concern just in front of the bottom penalty area which was wet this morning, but playable.

‘They put the covers on and in the three-and-a-half or four hours since that first inspection there has been heavy rain and that area of the pitch has become sodden and waterlogged.

‘It’s quite a significant area of the pitch, it’s not just a small corner. And, in that case, it’s unsafe for the players to play on.

‘Once I determine that those areas are unsafe for the players —and that’s my concern here — then the match is postponed.’

Dundee can’t expect the matter to end there. American owners Tim Keyes and John Nelms have submitted a planning application to build a new 12,500-seat arena in Camperdown Park.

While they would rather invest their money on a state-of-the-art stadium than throw bad money after good on a clapped-out Dens Park, Dundee planners have yet to wave the plans through and a suspicion remains that Rangers and Scottish football are being used to make a political point to the city fathers.

The SPFL will commence disciplinary proceedings next week when Dundee will surely be punished heavily for failing to maintain their pitch to an adequate standard.

Faced by similar charges in 2010, Motherwell were fined £50,000. The Fir Park club have recently made the point — with some justification — that by failing to spend on their pitch, Dundee have been able to spend more money on players instead.

Rangers issued a statement which accused Dundee of ‘negligence’ and ‘unprofessionalism'

Dundee face disciplinary action for failing to maintain their pitch to an adequate standard

The SPFL are now duty bound to send out a strong message to any other clubs thinking of cutting corners on pitch drainage by handing out a punishment which fits the crime.

Awarding Rangers a 3-0 victory and forcing Dundee to forfeit the points might strike some as a proportionate response.

In the midst of a neck-and-neck title race with Celtic, it would have triggered the sporting integrity row to end them all.

Moving the fixture to Airdrie or Easter Road was mooted, but would have robbed many Rangers fans of a chance to watch their team and forced Dundee to reimburse season-ticket holders for a game they were unable to attend.

The worry now would be if more rain was forecast for Dundee next Wednesday, when the SPFL hope the game will finally go ahead at the third time of asking. They can’t finalise the post-split fixtures until it does.

Callum Beattie, chief operating officer of the SPFL, refused to rule out a late contingency plan if the Dens Park pitch fails to dry up before next week.

‘In the last week we have explored other possible options with both clubs but none of them were deemed to be better than our original contingency plan,’ explained Beattie.

‘This decision gives this vital fixture the very best chance of being played in front of both sets of supporters and also gives us a week to finalise further contingency planning in the event that the weather unexpectedly deteriorates in the interim.’

This is the last thing Rangers need in tightest of title fights (2024)
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