FORMER Celtic midfielder Paul Hartley reckons the Premiership title race will be OVER if Neil Lennon’s men win at Parkhead on Sunday.
Steven Gerrard will take his Ibrox players across Glasgow in the hope of derailing the Hoops’ charge towards their eighth successive crown.
However, a triumph for the champions will push them THIRTEEN points clear at the top – and Hartley doesn’t see anything to prevent his old club from flying the flag yet again.
Looking at the task awaiting the visitors in the east end of Glasgow, Hartley, speaking to Sky Sports News, insisted: “They’ve got to win.
“Ten points behind, eight games to go, they’ve got to go there and try to win the game.
“There’s no point in going there and trying to sit back. Celtic can afford the draw, but they’ll be going to try to win the game. If they win, it looks like that’s the title over.
“Rangers know they can’t afford any more slip-ups. They are out of both Cups, they may not have any more silverware for another year, so it’s a massive game for them.”
Hartley admitted he has been impressed by the manner the title kings have maintained momentum, despite the quickfire managerial change with Brendan Rodgers’ sudden defection to mid-table Leicester City last month and the comeback of Neil Lennon on an interim basis.
The former Scotland international added: “They’ve had to grind out a couple of results. They won at Tynecastle and at Dundee, but that shows they’re a good team, they can grind out different results and play in a different style.
“He’s had a good start since he’s come back in, but Sunday’s the big one for both teams.
“Rangers deserved to win the last game, Celtic will try to make amends for that.”
A goal from Oliver Ntcham gave the Hoops a 1-0 victory in the first meeting of the sides in Septemer at Parkhead in a remarkable confrontation in which Celtic hit the woodwork FOUR times with efforts from the Frenchman, James Forrest, Mikael Lustig and Leigh Griffiths.
However, a strangely-subdued Parkhead outfit were rolled over at Ibrox late in December when a shot from Ryan Jack was deflected beyond the stranded Craig Gordon by Scott Brown.
Now all eyes are on Parkhead at the weekend in a game where Lennon can guide his players towards their FIFTIETH championship in the club’s proud history.
Neither Hartley nor the thousands who will pack out Paradise can envisage a banana skin on this occasion.