IT looks as though Celtic may well reach their goal of going into the winter break eight points clear, and if they do, then the bookies will stop taking bets on the destination of the Premiership title.

Ok, there’s a few ifs and buts to come before such a scenario comes to pass, but you can’t underestimate the importance of such a lead from a psychological point of view going into the winter break. For Celtic and for Rangers.

It was no surprise to hear Celtic manager Neil Lennon say that the pressure is now on Rangers after that win at Hearts during the week, and while there is obviously an element of mind games going on, I think there is a lot of truth in that too.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has backed his men to block that out and churn out the results they need to narrow the gap once more, but it is a different challenge for them now with that little bit of daylight between the teams.

All season it has been nip and tuck from day to day over a weekend depending on who was playing first, but now Rangers are chasing their rivals.

At the time of writing, I don’t know of course how they handled that pressure at Easter Road against Hibernian, but Rangers know they can’t afford to let anything slip at all before the Old Firm game at Celtic Park. They don’t want that possible margin of eight points being even greater, and if they have any designs on ending their long trophy drought, I don’t think they can afford it to be either.

It is so important for Rangers to stay on Celtic’s coattails. If they have any slip up at all, they will go into the game at Celtic Park almost having to win it, and they don’t need me to remind them that they haven’t done that for a good long while.

You can never say for sure that Celtic will take six points in the two matches before that game of course, but I fully expect that they will. If they show the same conviction and level of performance as they showed against Hearts against Aberdeen today and then St Mirren on Boxing Day, then I can’t see any other outcome.

Once Celtic got the goal at Tynecastle on Wednesday, there was only going to be one winner. Hearts actually started the game well enough, but in the end, Celtic could have won by three or four more than they did.

It turned out to be a convincing victory against a slightly improved Hearts team under their new manager, Daniel Stendel. They were in Celtic’s faces early on and presented a physical challenge, but Celtic coped with that far better than they had at Livingston way back at the start of this winning domestic run.

They were spooked that day, particularly in defence, but they showed that they have learned from the experience.

They have a real winning mentality about them at the moment. Tynecastle is always a difficult venue, but in the end, Celtic made it look easy.

The only criticism that Neil Lennon might have is that his team didn’t win more comfortably, but it’s another trip ticked off that looked difficult on paper - despite Hearts’ recent bad form - and another three points on the tally.

With Rangers slipping up at Pittodrie a couple of weeks back, the ball is very much in Celtic’s court. Neil Lennon knows now that if they continue to win their games - and there is nothing to suggest that they won’t - there is nothing at all that Rangers can do to claw them back.

It is such a massive few days in the title race, and this really could be a pivotal week in terms of whether Rangers can mount a credible challenge to stop Celtic winning nine in-a-row.

For all the talk of the title race being tighter this year, and I have to say that Rangers deserve credit for almost keeping pace with this Celtic side, the gap come the winter break could be far larger than it actually was at this time last year.

That may seem strange given how consistent both sides have been, and I am not saying Rangers haven’t improved, but it just goes to show that there has also been a real improvement at Celtic under Neil Lennon too.

If Celtic’s lead goes to eight points, or if it ends up even more than that as the players go off to get a bit of sun, it is hard to see how Rangers would recover. To me, it ould be close to a fatal blow in the title race.

And as I said, you might even see one or two bookies paying out on Celtic becoming champions yet again already.