CHRIS SUTTON insists Celtic’s encounter with Ross County in Dingwall tomorrow afternoon is their BIGGEST game of the season.
The former Hoops goal hero believes Ange Postecoglou’s men must forget all about next weekend’s derby against Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s outfit in their pursuit of the title.
The Parkhead men are six points ahead with five matches to play and that dynamic could change with the Ibrox side facing Motherwell at Fir Park with a noon kick-off today.
Sutton is urging his old team to maintain their focus after getting themselves into pole position with their 3-0 win over their Govan rivals in early February when they ruthlessly dismantled the visitors with a breathtaking three-goal flourish in the first-half when Reo Hatate fired in a double before setting up another for Liel Abada.
DOUBLE JOY…two-goal Reo Hatate and team-mate Daizen Maeda celebrate after the 3-0 derby win in February.
The roof almost came off a rocking sold-out stadium in the east end of Glasgow that evening as Postecoglou led his team back to the summit for the first time in 17 months – and they have remained at the summit since that drubbing.
The one-time England international striker, Martin O’Neill’s first signing for the club in the summer of 2000 when he agreed a £6million switch from Chelsea, believes the team have performed miracles to get within touching of the flag.
Sutton said: “Celtic were so bad last year it looked like it might take four or five transfer windows to sort out the mess, yet look where they are now.
“We can argue about collapses at the end of the season, though. There is a heck of a lot of work to be done.
“Don’t get me wrong, Celtic are in a strong position. Six points ahead with a huge goal difference with five games to go is a major advantage.
HIGH HOPES…Filipe Jota is off target with a right-foot effort in the Scottish Cup semi-final loss at Hampden.
“It might be a bit of mind games or Rangers fans trying to pile on the pressure, but I’ve seen some people suggest if Celtic don’t get over the line in the league it would be one of the biggest collapses ever.
“I don’t buy it. There’s a lot of football still to be played and, in fact, I’d flip it the other way. If Ange Postecoglou can complete the job in the remaining five games and deliver the title in what everyone expected to be a transitional season, I’d say the biggest collapse ever will have come from Ibrox.
“To turn a 25-point deficit last season in to a title win this year would be a monumental achievement for Celtic – and a huge fall from grace from Rangers when they were in a position to kick on from their success.”
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “The Premiership crown is not going to be handed on a plate. There could be points spilled between now and the end – by both sides.
ON THE SLIDE…Filipe Jota attempts to get the ball off Borna Barisic.
“It’s now about the reaction from Celtic from Hampden. We know what it’s like in this country. There’s a blip and fans start panicking.
“They lose one game to Rangers and they feel like they won’t win another one ever again, and vice versa. It doesn’t work like that.
“I don’t think the Scottish Cup defeat will affect Celtic. It was always going to be a tall order winning all four derby games after the New Year.
“This is a very good Rangers team. You just need to look at their exploits in Europe. There’s not a lot between the sides and the results can go either way.
“We know what it’s like in Glasgow. When one team is on top then everyone thinks they are fantastic and the other lot are hopeless.
“That might have been the case for the last decade when Celtic wiped the floor for nine years and last season when Rangers were over the horizon.
“But it wasn’t before then and it’s not now.”
CROWNING GLORY…Callum McGregor with one of his six titles at Celtic.
Sutton added: “I won titles at Celtic, but this reminds me more of the championship-winning side at Blackburn Rovers.
“We were also out in front, but we stumbled a little bit towards the end. That Blackburn squad was strong, but it didn’t have anyone in the group with experience of winning titles – apart from the manager, Kenny Dalglish. But Celtic do.
“It’s an inexperienced team going up against a Rangers side who did it 12 months ago, albeit with not much pressure.
“But Celtic players can look at guys such as Callum McGregor and Joe Hart, players who have got the nous and know what it takes to get over the line.
“But they just need to stick to the things that got them to 34 games unbeaten domestically.
“Rangers need to deal with Motherwell, but Ross County is absolutely massive for Celtic. Forget about next week – this is now the biggest game of the season.
“Ross County’s home record is pretty good. Celtic are the last team to win up there back in December.
HAPPY DAZE…Giorgos Giakoumakis and Daizen Maeda celebrate another Celtic goal.
“It’s a difficult game. The pitch was horrendous a month ago and that won’t help Celtic’s passing game. Postecoglou will be hoping Giorgos Giakoumakis is fit because they might need him.
“I know Kyogo is back in, but Giakoumakis has physicality and brings a different dimension. In terms of getting the momentum back, if Celtic beat Ross County they will go in to the Rangers game knowing one last push and the league is won.
“On the flip side, any points dropped will leave the door open for Rangers. Celtic have to concentrate on the process and go back to what’s got them in to this position, being ruthless and super creative.
“Sunday was one of the only times this season where they lacked a bit of a spark in the final third.
“But we should not forget how far Celtic have come. Fans would have bitten the hand off to be six points behind at this stage, never mind six in front.
“Ignore talk of collapses, the season is building towards a thrilling finale.”