The big occasions are made for Scott Sinclair and the player in turn is made for them, said the Celtic winger’s manager Brendan Rodgers on Boxing Day.
The comment followed a hat-trick from the Englishman that underpinned the fizzing 4-3 success over Aberdeen. But it could refer to what awaits the 29-year-old and his team-mates in tomorrow’s derby at Ibrox.
Sinclair has been an integral member of the history-making squad that Rodgers has assembled these past two-and-a-half years and another feat for the annals is on offer to Celtic in Govan.
The Scottish champions are on a run of four straight wins at the home of their ancient adversaries. They have never won five on the spin in games covered by the three major competitions played in the country – a sequence of five such victories at Ibrox between 1907 and 1909 achieved with a Glasgow Cup semi-final success.
Sinclair has enjoyed some of his finest moments in Celtic colours at Ibrox. He has netted in two of the four victories across the past two years. Both these goals were netted during his first season following his £4.5 million move from Aston Villa in August 2016. In that campaign, he netted four times in the derbies before failing to add to his Rangers tally in the term that followed.
His treble this week, which allowed him to move on to the 52-goal mark for his Celtic career, ensures he will go to Ibrox brimming with belief that he can find the target to help his club claim a victory that would allow them to break new ground.
“You can’t do much better than score a hat-trick when it comes to your own confidence going into the next game,” he said. “As a team, we’re all in good spirits in the camp and we are all going to be ready for the weekend game. I enjoy the big games. I think when you go to a place such as Aberdeen, all the players are up for it. The big occasions are exciting. It’s like that for a player to be involved in these type of games.
“We have got some good memories [of Ibrox], but this is another game and we go into it the way we would against anyone else.”
It won’t be just another game away to Rangers, never mind just another game, owing to a reduction in Celtic’s ticket allocation that will mean they only have around 700 supporters where previously they would have had almost 8,000 filling out the Broomloan Road end. The unwelcome development is not one Sinclair believes that he and his team-mates need fret over, though.
“I’m sure it’ll be a little bit different in terms of the crowd,” he said. “But, for us as players and professionals, we get our heads down and forget about things like that. We just try to make sure that we play good football. I think we are a top-level team. Players have come into it. Ryan [Christie] in the past couple of months has been exceptional and has added goals to his tally.
“There are a few other players, but as a team, there is a lot of competition and everyone keeps everyone else on their toes. Going forward now, it’s about the whole team and how we perform. I think you can see that with the characters in the squad [that we are as hungry as ever]. Obviously, at Aberdeen in the last 20 minutes when we had to dig deep, we did so and got a result.”
Sinclair has had to dig deep to rediscover the form that brought him a 25-goal haul in his first treble-winning season, and with that the players’ and the football writers’ player of the year awards. He lost his place in the starting line-up in late September and didn’t regain it for more than a month. He is philosophical about the dip he had to overcome. “I think that, sometimes, you have got to go through tough times,” he said.
“The first years that I have been here at Celtic, there has been nothing better. There was no negativity, just all positive. But there is always going to come a time when you get negativity, but, for me, it’s about just getting my head down and continuing to keep working hard and having a never give up attitude, which I’ve always had.”