Paul Lambert is reading the room and listening to the mood music.

The former Celtic skipper is beginning to hear the strains of a decent tune. With eight games to go in the campaign, his former employers might well have picked the best time to rediscover their form.

A Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund in 1997, Lambert knows all about performing on the biggest stage of all. Lambert has heard how Celtic could well be buoyed for the trip to Ibrox to face Rangers for the crucial third derby encounter of the season on April 7 with skipper Callum McGregor and Japanese playmaker Reo Hatate set to return to the midfield engine room. The 54-year-old insists that whoever features in the Celtic midfield is immaterial as they simply can't afford to go missing in action.

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Lambert said: "Celtic are going to Ibrox knowing that they are facing a different Rangers team this time around. Rangers have a spring in their step after recent results and with the way manager Philippe Clement has them playing but as things stand at the minute they are still sitting second.

"This is the first time Celtic have been put under serious pressure. Rangers have won one title in the last 12 years so you have to say that they have had it all their own way for a long period. The players know what they are up against now but it is a new experience for a lot of them in much the same way that it will be new territory for most of the Rangers squad. This will be the hardest derby match Celtic have faced this season. It is also the kind of fixture that makes players do things differently from what they would normally do.

"It doesn't matter who is playing for Celtic in that midfield area - Callum McGregor, Reo Hatate, or Matt O'Riley - they are going to have to be brave and take the ball. I always say 'never hide'. There is no hiding place in a derby match. It is a game where you need to be brave both physically and mentally. You have to demand the ball at all times. To be fair, Celtic have that in abundance. Having McGregor back for Ibrox is massive for Celtic. McGregor is the one player who will always take the ball under pressure and make things happen. He will take it anywhere in the park and perform a service for his club.

"Players like Hatate - if he plays - and O'Riley are going to have to put their shoulders to the wheel for this encounter. As for Hatate, everybody is saying that Celtic have missed him after they started dropping points. Nobody was saying that at the beginning when Celtic surged eight points clear in the title race. Callum, Matt, Paulo Bernardo and Tomoki Iwata were all doing okay in the middle of the park but when one or two results started going against Celtic then all of a sudden it was down to the fact that Hatate wasn't there.

"Hatate has not played for a long time and he has missed a hell of a lot of football this season so Celtic will need to assess how he is fitness-wise. There is no doubting his ability, that's for sure. Although Celtic may also want to throw Hatate in at Ibrox for his energy levels alone. If McGregor and Hatate both play against Rangers then the manager and the Celtic fans will be happy and feel better about themselves.  They will feel that they are strong in the midfield department for a game of such magnitude."

Despite Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers facing the prospect of an SFA touchline ban for the trip to Govan, Lambert is convinced that even if the Northern Irishman is banished to the stands for the derby clash it will have no bearing whatsoever on the proceedings. However, he admits to being baffled by some of the criticism aimed at the Parkhead manager this season. Lambert said: "Should Celtic have lost an eight-point lead? The answer is no but it happens in football and it is nonsense to see people lining up to have a pop at the manager.

"It doesn't really matter a jot if Brendan is in the technical area for the Rangers game or if he is serving an SFA ban. He will have his players well-drilled, disciplined and organised. That's when the Celtic players on the pitch will need to take responsibility. The onus will be on them to perform even if their manager is not there. Brendan knows the importance and the hype of the Rangers game but he can only take the players so far. The rest is up to the Celtic players and what they do on the day."

The powder-keg clash is already being billed as a potential league decider and Lambert reckons that if any of the Celtic players don't fancy the heat of battle in the cauldron of Ibrox during the Scottish Premiership title run-in then they have signed for the wrong club. The former Scotland star, who was capped 40 times for his country said: "Celtic need their big players to turn up on the day - Joe Hart, Cameron Carter-Vickers, McGregor, O'Riley, Hatate and Kyogo Furuhashi - it doesn't matter if the game is at Ibrox or Celtic Park you always have to step up.

"That's the type of club that Celtic is. Celtic demands that you perform and not just perform, you also have to win. The club makes no apologies for it. That is why Celtic signed you as a player in the first place. You have to be able to handle the good and bad that come along with it. If you can't then Celtic is not the club for you. Don't sign for Celtic, if you can't embrace the crunch matches and the pressure that they entail. It can eat you up if you are not properly prepared for it. Derby matches don't wait for anybody. Players have to step up and be ready for the battle when it commences.

"I think it is a great pressure to have on your shoulders knowing that you have to win games week in, week out. You don't get a pat on the back for playing well and losing. Even when you win you don't get a pat on the back because you very quickly move on to the next one. If you win a trophy, you have to let it go as you are busy focusing on the next. It is the nature of life at Celtic, you don't get time to enjoy the good moments or the sweet victories. It is a great pressure as you are always focusing on the next win or the next achievement.

"Celtic have proved that they can go to Ibrox without any fans and win as they have gone there and turned Rangers over a few times and they can do it again. The Celtic players know how to get that Ibrox crowd to turn against the Rangers players."

Celtic Way:

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Celtic do have the small matter of an outing away to Livingston before travelling to the south side of the city to face their title rivals. Lambert is adamant that there is nothing else in the equation except defeating the Lions. He said: "There is no point worrying about Ibrox if you can't beat Livingston. If you beat Livingston and Celtic should be able to do that then the Rangers match becomes massive and for that reason, I don't think Brendan won't let his players take their eye off the ball.

"It is the same for Rangers as well as they know they can ill-afford any slip-ups in the title run-in. The adrenal will be pumped up for Celtic because the players know they cannot afford to drop points against Livingston. That is a non-negotiable."

Meanwhile, Lambert believes good old-fashioned bottle and nerves will play a huge part for both sides in the title run-in. However, the ex-Norwich City, Aston Villa and Ipswich boss reckons if his former club can triumph at Ibrox then it will go a long way to deciding the destination of the league.

He said: "The winners of the Scottish Premiership title will all come down to bottle and the team that holds their nerve best. Even in games where you are winning 1-0 and you are down to the last five minutes then if you are going to be champions you need to see it out. Nobody in their right mind, even if Celtic are playing terribly, is going to hark back to the history books and say they played crap in this particular match.

"We are at the stage of the season where Celtic simply need to win all of their matches. After all, winning games is what football is all about. With eight games to go the most important thing is the result and nobody needs to tell Rodgers or the Celtic players exactly what is at stake. I still feel that Celtic are in a good place and the destiny of the title is in their hands and that is all you can ask for at this stage of the season with eight games to go.

"If Celtic can go to Ibrox and get the win then I think they can only throw it away again as I can't see Rangers clawing it back."

Only when green and white ribbons are wrapped around the Scottish Premiership trophy for a third successive time come May will this particular tune be complete. If that happens, it will be sweet music to Lambert and the Celtic support's ears.