CELTIC raced to a TEN-POINT advantage over Rangers in what could emerge as a pivotal night in the race for this season’s Premiership crown.
Neil Lennon watched his side ease to a 5-0 victory over Hearts at Parkhead while Steven Gerrard looked shattered as he witnessed his side concede a one-goal advantage at the interval to nosedive 2-1 to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
It was a night of massively contrasting fortunes for the Glasgow giants and emphasised the gap since the teams returned to action following the mid-winter break.
Celtic have won all six of their league games to amass EIGHTEEN points.
Rangers, on the other hand, went out of December with a bang following a 2-1 success over the champions at Parkhead and have returned with a whimper as they have shed eight points to collect a mere TEN.
Lennon has guided his side to consecutive victories over Kilmarnock (3-1), Ross County (3-0), St Johnstone (3-0), Hamilton Accies (4-1), Motherwell (4-0) and now Hearts (5-0). It looks like championship-winning form.
Across the city at Ibrox, the wheels have come off – momentarily, at least – with the challengers stuttering to three unconvincing victories – St Mirren (1-0), Ross County (2-0) and Hibs (2-1) while dropping two points in a scoreless stalemate with Aberdeen in Govan.
On their travels, they have lost to Hearts, 2-1 at Tynecastle and now Killie by the same scoreline in Ayrshire. That is not the sort of form that will derail a team charging towards nine in a row.
Even if the Gers can win their game in hand and reduce the Hoops’ lead to seven, they now need a favour from someone else in their quest to win meaningful silverware for the first time in eight years.
Even if they managed to win the two outstanding derbies, unlikely as that seems at the moment, they would still be a point adrift of their rivals.
While Lennon celebrated in Glasgow, Gerrard, who had such high hopes at the turn of the year, was left to pick through the wreckage of a dismal second period against Alex Dyer’s outfit.
The crestfallen gaffer, speaking to Sky Sports News, admitted: “In the second-half, we never handled the heat or the pressure. We never played like a team that was trying to fight to remain in a title race, a team that was trying to come away from here with three points.
“The reality is the opposition [Celtic] are in the driving seat. That’s down to two things – their form and us not being good enough since the winter break.”
Lennon, though, had an entirely different take on the evening’s events and added: “It might give them a bit of confidence, but that’s about it. We have a tough game on Sunday at Pittodrie. We are taking absolutely nothing for granted.
“The players know there is a long way to go and there will be twist and turns as we go along. We just need to concentrate on every individual game as it comes along. They were magnificent tonight.
“Their desire, hunger to play, score goals, run; everything you want from a team I got tonight. It was an emphatic victory.”