IN football, the application of pressure can make some players crumble, while shaping diamonds out of others. The players and the teams that can handle that pressure, are the ones who ultimately go on to win prizes.

There are precious few footballing cities on this planet where that maxim applies more than in Glasgow. Or, given the travel plans of many Celtic and Rangers fans this weekend, perhaps Blackpool.

Even in this bleak hellscape we find ourselves in (life under Covid-19 restrictions, not a weekend in Blackpool with 10,000 steaming Old Firm punters) where supporters can't attend matches, the pressure on the shoulders of the men who walk out at Celtic Park on Saturday lunchtime will be immense.

Even without the audible moans and groans of fans in grounds though, there seems to be a narrative forming from the online murmurings and call-in show grumblings of Celtic fans that they aren’t entirely satisfied by the way their team has started the season.

By contrast, all appears to be fine and dandy from a Rangers perspective, with the perception from the outside being that Steven Gerrard’s men are sailing into Celtic Park on the crest of a wave after an impressive start to their own campaign.

It is often said that the league table doesn’t lie though, and while Neil Lennon will no doubt be the first to admit that the champions haven’t quite hit their straps yet, the fact remains that Celtic are just a point adrift of Rangers at the top of the standings and have a game in hand.

Logic, therefore, may lead you to conclude that the burden of pressure going into this match falls mainly on the shoulders of the boys in blue. The title won’t be won or lost this weekend, of course, but if Rangers were to fall two points behind their great rivals having played a game more, the Ibrox men could suddenly be staring at the prospect of a five-point gap to Celtic so early in the campaign.

It would seem then that for this match, the importance of a win to Rangers – not only in a psychological, but in a material sense – is far greater than it is for Celtic.

For whoever loses this match, the proverbial will hit the fan for a week or two and no mistake. Having already been put through the mangle by his own fans for the Champions League qualifying exit to Ferencvaros, Neil Lennon won’t be in too much of a hurry to repeat the experience. There are some among the Celtic support who actually seem to be ready and waiting for him to fail, if not quite willing him to just yet.

By contrast, Steven Gerrard is being feted for his achievements on the other side of the city, and you would have to be at the madam to deny the improvements he has made at Rangers. Still, it wasn’t so long ago that there was an almost open revolt in the Ibrox stands as Rangers went down 1-0 to Hamilton to fall 13 points behind Celtic at the business end of last season.

It was harder to tell what caused the biggest embarrassment to the Rangers support that night, the insipid performance from their players, or the staged show of support for their manager on the eighth minute that garnered the same smattering of applause you might hear at the Open when a golfer taps in for bogey.

If anything, you might say that the biggest beneficiary of the season finishing early from an Old Firm point of view was in fact Steven Gerrard, rather than Neil Lennon, with memories of such evenings buried in the acrimony of the way the season was called before its completion.

It is unlikely though that the Rangers support have completely forgotten or forgiven the way their team collapsed after the winter break for a second season in a row, and they will be sure to make their displeasure known if their quest to end this long barren run without silverware should hit a hurdle at this early juncture. Particularly in this season, of all seasons.

There is also the depletion of the Celtic ranks through the impact of Coronavirus to consider. With Odsonne Edouard struggling to make it, and Ryan Christie, Hatem Elhamed and Nir Bitton definitely out – as well as another key man, James Forrest, through injury - there may be those among the Celtic support who will go into this match fearing the worst.

If their expectations have been tempered as a result, the pressure on Rangers to go and take advantage of their understrength rivals will be increased relative to the raised expectations among their own fanbase.

So, for me, there is more riding on this game from a Rangers perspective, both in terms of their position in the table and mentally too. If they win, they are laying down a marker, telling Celtic in no uncertain terms that it is game on in the quest to stop 10 in-a-row. They will go four points clear, meaning that even at this early stage, they will maintain the psychological advantage of being top of the league even if Celtic do indeed win their game in hand.

If they lose, suddenly all those questions about their character and ability to maintain a challenge to Celtic which were buried in the spring will resurface once more.

Neither team may be able to win the war tomorrow, but it is in who handles their own relative pressures to win the battle where we may find clues as to who will ultimately prevail.