IT was an “expensive” error. So said Rangers manager Philippe Clement in the immediate aftermath of his side’s 2-1 Premiership defeat to Celtic in Parkhead last Saturday as they failed in their bid to take the upper hand in the title race going into the final match before the winter break.

Nick Walsh’s failure to spot an apparent handball by Celtic full-back Alistair Johnston inside his own penalty box in the second half, and VAR official Willie Collum rejecting that the incident was a clear and obvious error, was the main sticking point for the Belgian as they lost crucial ground to their rivals.

Glasgow Times: Alistair Johnston's hand appears to strike the ball while challenging Abdallah Sima in the boxAlistair Johnston's hand appears to strike the ball while challenging Abdallah Sima in the box (Image: SNS)READ MORE: The Celtic player 'doing nuts in' as he presses home demands

He wasn’t blaming Abdallah Sima’s weak headed clearance from Luis Palma’s corner which teed up Paulo Bernardo to rifle home Celtic’s opener in the first half. Nor did he lament Connor Goldson’s positioning which allowed Kyogo Furuhashi to generate space on his weaker side to fire a long-range strike past Jack Butland in the Rangers goal to double the lead shortly after the break. Leon Balogun was given a pass for reducing the visitors to 10 men after bundling down Daizen Maeda when Furuhashi had sent him through on goal with the score at 2-0. Nor did the Belgian blame his centre-forward Cyriel Dessers who fluffed his lines whenever presented with an opportunity in front of goal.

One major failing of the Michael Beale experiment at the start of the season which led to his early eviction and Clement’s installation as manager was the Englishman’s inability to quickly gel a hefty intake of players as part of a major rebuild project.

One of the largest transfers into the Ibrox club last summer was the £4.3m arrival of Dessers from Italian lesser-lights Cremonese. The Nigerian has struggled to live up to that price-tag since and his bluntness in front of goal against Celtic on Saturday was another lamentable sign that he will be unlikely to hold down the Rangers No.9 shirt. His signing, it would appear, was an expensive error.

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However, in the bowels of Celtic Park after the match last week, Clement insisted: “My biggest frustration isn’t Cyriel Dessers missing a chance, my biggest frustration is that if there’s a clear handball, I don’t understand why it’s not a penalty given.”

When confronted with the fact that Sima, whom Johnston was trying to usher to the by-line when he made contact with the ball with his fist, had been offside in the build-up, the Belgian doubled down – and the club has since continued to meander down the garden path of conspiracy theorem with their inquest into the VAR team’s handling of the incident at the time and the issues surrounding communicating decisions with clubs and the public.

You can empathise with those frustrations. Indeed, a culture of transparency around VAR decisions would surely benefit officials most, given the harsh spotlight they come under after such incidents. But that is an issue which affects all clubs, and certainly is not unique to one nor the benign incident in question. In fairness to Rangers, in their statement following a meeting with Scottish FA representatives on Wednesday evening, the Ibrox club pointed to this.

As Rangers’ statement alluded to, these contentious decisions affect all teams. Could David Turnbull count himself unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty after appearing to be brought down in the box by James Tavernier on Saturday? Bernardo was bizarrely penalised after a robust challenge on him by Rangers centre-back Goldson. Were these not clear-and-obvious errors by the match officials?

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Rather than trying to iron out the humanity from the organic process of three strategically placed individuals officiating a game contested by 22 players over 7000 square metres of grass, maybe, in this age of superficial scientific certainty, we could allow for a certain level of grace. Isn’t that why we bother turning up in the first place?

When Celtic return to action after the winter break, for example, it will be to take on Highland League outfit Buckie Thistle in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. If it’s scientific certainty you crave, VAR might as well have a quiet word in the referee’s ear before kick-off advising them to forfeit the match.

Speaking of mismatches, behind all this talk of “expensive” mistakes on Saturday, there was a relatively one-sided contest which the Scottish champions contrived to make more interesting at the end. At 2-0 to the good and with an extra man on the field, Rodgers’ side were in cruise control. There was a passage of play where so many ironic cheers accompanied consecutive passes that it felt like the artificial crowd noises from the pandemic era had got stuck on an interminable loop inside Celtic Park.

Glasgow Times: Daizen Maeda is grounded by Rangers defender Leon BalogunDaizen Maeda is grounded by Rangers defender Leon Balogun (Image: SNS)READ MORE: Rangers vs Celtic penalty call 'incorrect' amid SFA talks

While comparing Dessers’ performance to Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe missing chances was something of a stretch from Clement, that’s not to say that he ought to have focused on his own side’s shortcomings: his opponents were fair game in that respect.

While Celtic looked a cut above Clement’s team for the majority of proceedings, there is a demonstrable chink in their armour which has been apparent in big fixtures at Celtic Park this season. Against Atletico Madrid, Lazio and Feyenoord at home in the Champions League, Celtic have found themselves in a fraught battle come the end of the 90 minutes having been in commanding positions in the respective matches. Against Feyenoord and Rangers, they held on to claim narrow 2-1 victories; against Lazio they succumbed to the reverse of that scoreline and against Atletico contrived to draw 2-2 having led twice in the match.

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This is a hole worth picking for Clement. Spain veteran Alvaro Morata got Atletico out of a hole at Parkhead, while Lazio were able to call on his countryman Pedro to secure victory from the jaws of defeat at the same venue. What Rangers would do for a reliable marksman in such circumstances. Improvements in communications surrounding VAR decisions will not peg back the current eight-point deficit, but an accomplished centre-forward might. Who knows, maybe that elusive figure is staring Rangers in the face.

The beauty of a 38-game season is that nothing is certain, and that is why we will be gripped once more when the action resumes in less than three weeks’ time just as the transfer window heads towards its conclusion. Rangers can ill-afford to make any more expensive errors themselves.