FORMER Celtic striker Chris Sutton insists it will be “last orders at last chance saloon” if his old club fail to win at Ibrox this afternoon.
The one-time England international emphasised the urgent need for a victory as he gave his verdict on the Glasgow derby where Neil Lennon’s men realise a defeat could bring a halt to their hopes for a historic tenth successive championship.
The Hoops boss and playmaker Ryan Christie have gone on record as saying this is NOT a must-win confrontation – as CQN reported – but Sutton vehemently disagrees.
Scotland’s title kings have shed 11 points in an erratic and frustrating campaign – and that is one more than they conceded throughout the curtailed 30-game last campaign. They have already lost to Steven Gerrard’s side in a monumental flop in the east end of Glasgow in October while they have carelessly dropped points in draws against Kilmarnock, Aberdeen, Hibs and St Johnstone.
They go into the 12.30pm showdown 16 points adrift although they have three games – and a potential nine points – in hand as they play catch-up in the pursuit of the crown which would be the 52nd flag success in their illustrious history.
Sutton, the £6million signing from Chelsea in the summer of 2000, wrote in his Daily Record column: “The season is barely at the halfway stage, but Celtic are already drinking in last chance saloon.
“Neil Lennon’s side have to win at Ibrox today or they will be drowning their sorrows while the title goes to Rangers.
“It’s really as simple as that.
“I’m not having a draw in the derby. A share of the points would do nothing for Celtic’s hopes that are already hanging on by a thread. They must win – but the big question is: Can they?
“Lennon has some huge decisions to make, right across his team. The main one should be straightforward.
“Isamaila Soro has to start ahead of Scott Brown.
“That’s not me putting the boot in to the Celtic captain. He’s been a tremendous servant for the club and a big-game player.
“He was back in the side for the Scottish Cup Final and I thought he was Celtic’s best player.
“But Lennon CAN’T leave out Soro now. David Turnbull has helped turn the season around, but Soro has played his part as well and it would be massively unfair to leave him out now.
“He’s earned the right to play and that means making the hard call to leave out Brown against Steven Gerrard’s side.”
Sutton continued: “Celtic’s diamond line-up will mean a lot of work for Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor in the wide areas, but that could leave them being overrun in the centre. Lennon will have to work out whether he wants to put out a side that will cope with Rangers – or will impose their own game on them.
“The season rests on that call.
“It’s an easy one for him up front. Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths have to play. I know it might leave the midfield short of bodies, but it will give Rangers something to think about.
“The pair of them just work as a partnership. Their link-up play has been terrific in recent games, albeit against sides you’d expect Celtic to beat.
“But there’s another thing – they owe the club, the manager and the supporters.
“Lennon has shown a lot of patience with the duo and it’s payback time. Celtic need a huge performance and they need their front two to be firing.
“If they are on form then they can give Rangers a really tough time.
“The doubts come at the other end.
“Can this Celtic defence be trusted to keep Rangers out? I’m not so sure. Christopher Jullien’s fitness is a real concern. I know he’s had his moments this season, but he’s the one defender you want in there for the big games.
“I wonder if Lennon would like to put Kris Ajer at right-back, but he might not be able to if the Frenchman isn’t available.
“There’s Nir Bitton and Shane Duffy, but there’s still a fragility that can’t be allowed to return at Ibrox.
“This is also time for Vasilis Barkas to prove he is a top goalkeeper. A lot’s been made of his return, but the reality is none of the three keepers has impressed this season.
“Fraser Forster’s absence has been more apparent by the week, but that ship has sailed and Barkas needs to do the business.
“This game could be the making of him. It could be the making of this Celtic team in need of a spark.
“If they can win it will be game on for the title race – and let’s see how it goes down at Ibrox.
“Listen, it’s almost done and dusted already.
“If Rangers fail to win the league from here it would go down as the biggest collapse of all time.
“I’m honestly not saying that to crank up the pressure – I’m just being realistic.”
Sutton added: “Rangers’ defensive record suggests to me they won’t drop too many points from now until the end of the campaign.
“It’s hard to see them being tripped up too many times on the run-in, so it will be up to Celtic to win every week and then take points of Gerrard’s side, as well.
“It’s a big ask even if they do get out of Ibrox with three points, but if they do it will reignite the title race.
“Anything less and it’ll be last orders in the last chance saloon for Celtic and Lennon.”
* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from Rangers v Celtic this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.