SHOULD Celtic fall further behind Rangers in the Premiership or lose the Scottish Cup final to Hearts and so miss out on a historic quadruple treble in the coming weeks, then everything could change.

The Parkhead board may have backed Neil Lennon for the second time in seven days on Monday and pledged to give him the festive period to address the issues which have caused his side’s spectacular slump in form.

But in modern football there are no cast iron certainties for somebody in his position.

If there are no tangible signs of improvement on the pitch, if the dire run of results continues, if the unrest among their support escalates further, then Lennon may well not be in charge when Celtic cross Glasgow to play Rangers next month.

If the Northern Irishman does, however, manage to oversee an upturn in fortunes in the forthcoming fixtures against Kilmarnock, Hearts, Ross County, Hamilton and Dundee United, then he will take his place in the Ibrox dugout on Saturday, January 2, 2021.

And that Old Firm game, Glasgow derby match, call it what you will, in Govan will then decide his fate. Win or even draw it, and he will survive. Lose it, and he will pay the price.

The prospect is doubtless a mouthwatering one for those Rangers supporters who have revelled in Celtic’s troubles this term almost as much as, in some cases more than, they have celebrated their own heroes’ successes at home and abroad.

Seeing Lennon’s chances of holding onto his job slip away on their home patch as Steven Gerrard’s men take another giant stride towards a first Scottish title in 10 long years – and their hated adversaries suffer a hammer blow in their bid to complete 10-In-A-Row - will be a joyous experience for them.

If the match was to be played this weekend Rangers would, after winning all eight of their home games in the league without conceding a single goal, fancy themselves to triumph and pull 16 points clear at the top of the table.

The likelihood of a Celtic side which has been knocked out of the Betfred Cup by Ross County, struggled in the Premiership and bombed in Europe clawing back that sort of deficit would be next to non-existent.

Lennon, though, has been in a similar position and emerged unscathed. In the 2010/11 campaign, he was under serious pressure from the stands going into the Ibrox game in January.

His side had lost their opening Champions League and Europa League qualifiers by heavy margins and were, after being held to draws by Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Kilmarnock at home in the preceding weeks, only a point clear in the Premier League despite playing two games more.

Walter Smith’s men, who had coasted to a convincing 3-1 win at Parkhead in their previous encounter at Celtic Park in October, were expected to walk it. But the visitors produced a rousing display. Beram Kayal, Charlie Mulgrew and Georgios Samaras, who scored a second-half double, were immense as they ran out deserved 2-0 victors.

Celtic failed to win the league that term after they crashed to a 3-2 loss to Caley Thistle away in May. But that New Year game very much transformed their season. It showed that, as the old saying goes, form can go out of the window in the Old Firm derby.

Major shareholder Dermot Desmond, chief executive Peter Lawwell and their fellow directors have been savaged by a large section of the support for declining to sack Lennon in the wake of the Ross County reverse and the draw with St Johnstone.

But their refusal to bow to the pitchfork-wielding hordes and dispense with the services of a man who has lifted all four of the domestic trophies his team has competed in since being appointed in difficult circumstances last year and who is on the verge of landing a fifth is laudable.

Lennon, who has had to go without a raft of key players due to coronavirus and injury, is deserving of far greater respect and loyalty than many have shown him. It may well not work out. The problems he is contending with are considerable and complicated. But the board are right to at least give him the opportunity to try and rectify the situation.

Should Celtic beat Rangers, as they did on their last visit to Ibrox in September last year, next month then they could potentially find themselves 13 points behind with three games in hand and 17 matches in total remaining.

Will the yob element of their fanbase be hurling missiles, draping threatening banners over perimeter fences and attacking team buses then? They will have a glimmer of hope.

The New Year Old Firm game has proved pivotal in the two previous seasons that a club has attempted to win their 10th consecutive Scottish title; Rangers won 3-0 at Ibrox in 1975 and went on to prevail and Celtic triumphed 2-0 at Parkhead in 1998 and finished that league campaign in first place.

It isn’t looking very promising for Neil Lennon or Celtic at the moment. There is already an air of inevitability about the season. But the game against Rangers will determine a great deal for both of them.