Resurgent Celtic puts Ross County manager on high alert
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JOHN Hughes is warning Ross County to expect a Celtic juggernaut on Sunday, but is banking on a show of defensive defiance.
The Staggies manager grasped the opportunity of this week’s big thaw to pile in a power of outdoor work on the training ground ahead of the home clash against the recently wounded champions.
Hughes anticipates encountering a Celtic team back at the peak of their powers and believes every one of his players will have to be at their best to pull off a shock result.
Neil Lennon’s team, after a barrage of criticism over their dramatic tumble out of 10-in-the-row contention, had strung together four wins before last night’s tussle with Aberdeen, with some of the old swagger evident again.
“They’ve got their mojo back, I’d say, after that sticky spell,” Hughes said. “They play some great football. I was waxing lyrical about Rangers in their performance against us at Ibrox and yet, when you look at Celtic – albeit Rangers beat them – they were the better football team in the Old Firm match.
“We know the strength of opponent this weekend. They seem to have that hunger back. As a player, you want to test yourself against the best so it has to inspire our players.”
Hughes, now two months at Victoria Park, believes he has rekindled County’s scoring touch and feels his team can trouble the reigning champions when opportunities arise. Finding defensive solidity on a consistent basis, though, remains a work in progress.
“We’ve shown we’re more than capable against better teams in the division,” Hughes said. “On our day, we can beat them, but I’m striving for consistency of performance. There’s a lot we’ve tried to put in place in a short period of time.
“When I came in here there were a lot of injured players, but we’ve now got good numbers on the training pitch, competition for places.
“We’ve started scoring goals, but need to start keeping the back door shut. There is a balancing act there. I came in at a time when they were suffering for a bit of confidence and momentum, which all teams need.
“It has been stop-start, but I’ve got a good bunch of boys who realise what is needed. We need to let Celtic know they’re in a game. The pretty football is for another day. It’s all about picking up results. We have to defend from the front.”
Captain Iain Vigurs is suspended, while Tom Grivosti will miss the rest of the season after a hamstring operation. Connor Randall, similarly, will not play again this term due to a back problem.