Scott Sinclair, the former Celtic winger, no longer has formal ties to the Parkhead side but there will be a pull nonetheless tomorrow afternoon towards the East End of Glasgow.

Neil Lennon’s side host Rangers in the opening derby of the season – the first meeting since Sinclair left the club for Preston North End last January – with the 31-year-old maintaining as keen an interest in the outcome as when he was in the thick of it.

“We are playing Cardiff on Sunday so I’ll be straight off the training ground to watch the game,” said Sinclair. “It will be a quick exit for me. I’m really looking forward to it. I am not a Celtic player anymore but I am most certainly still a Celtic fan.”

Sinclair started his Parkhead career with a bang, scoring a late winner on his debut at Tynecastle. The trajectory was sustained in that inaugural season as he found the net too in his first game against Rangers – a resounding 5-1 win as Moussa Dembele netted a hat-trick – and continued that pattern against the Ibrox side.

The Englishman reaped four goals against Rangers in his first season before rounding off the campaign as a pivotal part of Brendan Rodgers’ Invincibles team with the 25 goals from 50 appearances winning him the Players’ Player of the Year award as well as the Scottish Football Writers’ Player of the Year.

He is well aware that the games against Rangers can be so definitive in shaping a season.

Neither Neil Lennon nor Steven Gerrard have lost in this opening sequence of league games and the Ibrox side’s victory, the first in almost a decade, last December on the home of their rivals will have negated some of the fear factor that was so often a tangible factor in recent encounters.

“I think it is an early chance to put down a marker,” he said. “I loved those games. I loved the intensity of them and I loved everything around them; the build-up and the feeling coming off the pitch after winning.

“I left a dressing room that knows that feeling well.”

Tomorrow’s game is one like no other. There was the game at Ibrox in 1994 when the then Ibrox chairman David Murray banned Celtic fans from attending but that is an entirely different proposition that playing in front of a sea of empty seats.

As such, Sinclair expects that the experience of Celtic captain Scott Brown and Callum McGregor will be key in ensuring that there is no dropping off of intensity, although he has suggested that players themselves always appreciate the importance of such a fixture.

“You can be sure that the likes of Scott Brown and Callum McGregor will have whoever starts the game well aware of how big it is,” he said.

“But players understand a game like this instinctively. You hear so many ex-players talk about the fixture and deep down no matter who starts the game, they know just how big it is.

“I can’t quite imagine it…..playing a game like this without fans. People tell you what to expect in a game like this but you don’t get it until you are actually in that moment.

“I remember the first time for me when I walked out of the changing room for the warm-up the place was packed. Both sets of fans were in and it felt like the place was absolutely rocking long before we had even made it to kick-off.

“I feel for players who don’t have that experience because the atmosphere is such a big part of it. It’s a shame for the fans too because there have such a key role to play in these games.”

Celtic have been hammered by Covid problems in the build-up to the game with Lennon’s biggest headache around the availability and fitness of Odsonne Edouard. The striker tested positive but could be available after serving his quarantine but Ryan Christie, Nir Bitton and Hatem ElHamed are all out.

Sinclair, though, was fairly equivocal about who will be celebrating tomorrow afternoon.

“I fancy Celtic will win it,” he said. “They have great players, players who know what it takes.”

Sinclair’s exit was fairly low-key as he left the club for Preston in January but he has nothing but good things to say of his experience in Glasgow. “I loved my time at Celtic,” said Sinclair. “They were the happiest days of my career.

“In a perfect world I would have got the chance to say my goodbyes to the Celtic support because they were incredible to me.

“But this is football. I won everything I could at the club and I won individual honours and all of it means the world to me. I have left Celtic but I’ll never lose my affection for the club.”