IT is difficult to recall without wincing just how many years ago it was that an old university lecturer bemoaned the increasing influence of curriculum coursework that contributed to an end-of-year grade.

Exams, he insisted, were the nearest thing to real life that his students experienced: under pressure, against the clock, on your own and living and dying by the decisions and choices that had to be made in a tense environment.

What he was really getting at was that you never really know yourself until you see yourself under pressure.

It is a message that has come sharply to the fore these past few weeks.

Steven Gerrard publicly questioned the mentality of his squad on Wednesday night following Rangers’ defeat to Kilmarnock and it was not difficult to see why. The Ibrox side have dropped more points in their last five league games than they had in the 20 games they played before the winter break. It can’t all come down to injuries, suspensions and missing key players.

If Gerrard’s frustration was palpable it is understandable.

And what is difficult to escape is the theory that Rangers choked when they had the opportunity to really turn the screw on Celtic at the top of the table.

The win at Celtic Park in December ought to have been the beginning. Instead it has become the end. It was an afternoon of celebration, of getting an old monkey off their back, but ultimately, it was a party in isolation that will offer little balm if Celtic go on, as they surely will, to deliver a record-equalling ninth successive title.

Two points behind Celtic in December but with a game in hand there was the first real chance in almost a decade to ask questions of the Parkhead side. There was talk of last-day title finishes and a race that would go all the way to the wire. Six weeks on and it has all evaporated like stale cigar smoke.

Part of it is down to Rangers’ inability to truly believe themselves capable of stopping Celtic’s domestic juggernaut. And part of it is due to the manner in which Celtic responded to that New Year defeat.

There is a certain grudging acceptance on the part of some Celtic fans regarding just how much Neil Lennon has sustained the standards set by Brendan Rodgers.

First to get it in the neck when there have been hiccups – that Rangers defeat and the failure to make the Champions League brought out a fair few of his critics – but his stats are of note: this run of form in which his side have taken 51 points from a possible 54 is bettered only by Rodgers’ Invincibles season when the team enjoyed a run of 22 straight victories.

That the response to the slip against Rangers has been so emphatic has added to the pressure on the Ibrox side; it is not only that Celtic have been winning, but the manner in how they have been winning.

And pressure is a two-way street. Back in season 2012-13 with no genuine pressure on them, Celtic won the league with just 79 points. It was an insipid campaign, largely because there was no-one capable of asking the questions. Motherwell finished second, 16 points off the pace. Any slip-ups were of little consequence.

Celtic have already equalled the number of goals they scored in the entirety of last season. With 12 league games remaining they will substantially improve on that stat.

If pressure has been their oxygen, it has proved to be a toxin for Rangers. And nowhere is it more evident than in the way key players on both sides have responded.

Callum McGregor looked to be out on his feet in that last game against Rangers. The Celtic midfielder spoke recently of the “humbling” nature of that defeat and the reaction to it. His recent performances and his influence for the Parkhead side would suggest he took some of the criticism personally.

The loss of Alfredo Morelos was not insignificant for Rangers. Serving the suspension after the winter break kept the prolific striker out for more than a month; it was always going to take him time to get back up to speed and pick up where he left off.

If his ill-discipline has been costly there was more that had to come from key players. Rangers pushed the boat out to land Ryan Kent this summer in a £7m deal but his ability to turn a game and find something from nothing has been glimpsed only rarely.

If pressure has elevated Celtic to find another level, it has proved suffocating for Rangers and their title ambitions.

And another thing

The suggestions this week are that Manchester United are back in the hunt for Moussa Dembele.

If the £20m that Lyon paid Celtic for 18 months ago was a substantial fee in Scottish terms, it will be dwarfed by what the Premier League side will be expected to cough up for the French Under-21 star.

Celtic will take their cut of any sell-on fee but there will remain some frustration in Scottish circles that they do not get the full value for their assets given the snottiness with which the league is viewed.

Odsonne Edouard and Alfredo Morelos will be the next players to attract big money offers this summer. Edouard has been exceptional for Celtic as well as for France at Under-21 level, while Morelos’ goals will always make him attractive to potential suitors.

Neither club should be settling for below what they believe their prime assets to be worth.