AS the hours tick by and Sunday’s kick-off time draws ever closer, one decision sticks out amongst the many Brendan Rodgers will make between now and when the Celtic team coach arrives at Ibrox to the traditional warm reception.

Does he go with a player who has done more damage in these games than any other but on current form would be nowhere close to the starting line-up?

Last season, it would have been inconceivable for a fit Scott Sinclair to be left out of the starting line-up for any game never mind one of the biggest fixtures on the calendar. And now? Well, isn’t it odd how things can change so dramatically.

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The Englishman helped himself to four goals against Rangers, including two at Ibrox, in a campaign which every individual honour came his way and deservedly so. Sinclair was unplayable at times. But the talk among Celtic supporters is whether he should play at all this weekend.

Sinclair’s drop in standards is more noticeable than it would be for another for two reasons. Firstly, he was so good last time and, secondly, because even on a bad day, and there have been a few, this is one player who always makes himself available for the ball.

Rodgers loves Sinclair and no wonder. He’s the consummate pro who works back in defence and with 17 goals and 15 assists in an average season, boasts statistics his peers crave. His record last season was 25 goals and 11 assists, so it’s hardly the case that he's not contributed.

But, and this is indisputable, he is not playing well. Defenders have worked out the winger, they are now wise to him cutting in from the left to get the ball on his right foot, teams double up on him and the tricks which were coming off a year ago are nowhere to be seen.

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With Mikael Lustig suspended, Rodgers may stick with the three at the back formations which sees James Forrest and Kieran Tierney operate as wing-backs. If that is the case, Sinclair will be on the substitute’s bench.

It would be a big call to make. It would also be the right one.

There is no joy to be gained by saying this. Sinclair in person is one of the most decent you could meet in football. He’s a humble lad, almost shy, and has embraced life at the club and in Glasgow.

But with so much at stake, with the gap so much more closer than anyone would have believed, there is no room for a passenger and, while it may sound harsh, that’s what Sinclair has been in some games.

“I’m looking to get more goals and more assists than last year,” said the former Manchester City man. “Every player should look o build on the previous season and do everything they can to make themselves a better player than they were the previous year.

“You’ve got to set your sights high and expect to be scrutinised. When you play for a big club like Celtic, you’re always going to come under pressure. That’s to be expected.

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“If I can get more goals and more assists than last season, though, I’ll be happy. At this moment in time, I’m concentrating with goals and assists.”

Sinclair is smarter than most and won’t need to be told that it’s not really been happening for him. Footballers may live in a bubble but all when they’re playing below their expected levels.

The 28-year-old isn’t a mystery any more. Defenders are able to guess what he’s going to do and this more than anything is why he’s struggled.

Sometimes you just have to change your game,” said Sinclair in an interview with this week’s Celtic View. “Last year the opposition weren’t as familiar with how I played. This year I’m getting doubled-on and managers are looking to stop me in any way they can.

“My job is to come up with different game plans and solutions of being effective in the game. As long as I’m contributing to the team and helping them get results, then that’s the most important thing.

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“Last year I was probably more involved in the initial part of the build-up play, whereas now I’m more often there to set someone up in the end.”

Sinclair stayed in the dressing room at half-time of last Saturday’s Scottish Cup home win over Morton after another poor 45 minutes.

Odsone Edouard took his place, showed up well and took his goal with great skill and he will be in with a shout of starting.

What can be said with utter certainty is that no matter who Rodgers goes with, they will be in for a far tougher afternoon than previous Celtic visits to Ibrox.

“Rangers will always be really up for it but they’ll have doubts in the back of their mind because we have such a great record against then,” said Sinclair.

“For us, we will just be looking to play our normal game.”

And what Sinclair would give to rediscover his game for a year ago.