Ross County manager Stuart Kettlewell is playing down the impact an empty Parkhead will have in the Staggies’ favour when they face Celtic in Sunday’s Betfred Cup tie.
County make the trip to Glasgow’s East End for the first time in competitive action this season, although they went down 2-0 in a behind-closed-doors friendly match against Neil Lennon’s men in July.
The Hoops’ form has stuttered in recent weeks, leaving them 11 points behind leaders Rangers with two games in hand.
Their domestic form at Parkhead has remained largely strong, however, having racked up four wins, with their only loss coming in their last home league outing to the Gers in October.
Kettlewell feels the Hoops have more than enough quality in their side to compensate for the lack of backing, and he said: “It’s hard because the crowd behind Celtic can be their twelfth man that generates an atmosphere. Sometimes you feel like they can suck the ball towards the goal.
“Sometimes when that crowd roars, the referee might be influenced by it and your players can be caught a bit apprehensive by the environment.
“There is definitely a change to that, but you are still facing the same level of players and the same quality. There is still the same imagination in the final third.
“I don’t try to compare it and say it’s a much easier task for us going there without a crowd. It’s still a very difficult one.
“I need to make sure the players are braced for the quality they are going to play against.”
Celtic go into Sunday’s last-16 tie with only two wins from their last eight matches in all competitions, which has seen Lennon come under severe pressure.
A group of Celtic supporters displayed a banner calling for Lennon to be removed at Parkhead yesterday, ahead of the nine-in-a-row Scottish champions’ Europa League trip to Sparta Prague tonight.
Kettlewell feels Lennon deserves to be cut some slack, having continued to deliver every available domestic silverware since returning to the club for a second stint in 2019.
Kettlewell added: “I think Neil Lennon has done an amazing job. I get asked questions about my upcoming opponents on a weekly basis, but to take over the reins from Brendan Rodgers and do what he has been able to do has been massive.
“He has got stiff competition as Rangers are flying. A lot of clubs are improving, the standards have probably gone up which makes the challenge even greater.
“To throw into question what he’s doing or what he has done as a manager is a bit ridiculous. I’m fairly certain he will have a team set out for Thursday and Sunday fully intent on winning both games.
“They are looking to keep themselves involved in Europe and in the cup. That makes it a stiff test for us but it’s one we relish.”
Despite qualifying from their Betfred Cup section as group winners earlier this month, County go into Sunday’s game short of form having not won against top-flight opposition since a 1-0 victory over St Johnstone on September 19.
The Staggies’ woes have been compounded by a hamstring injury suffered by Tom Grivosti which could rule the English defender out for up to two months, while Jordan Tillson and Regan Charles-Cook are also doubts with injuries suffered in the 3-1 loss to Kilmarnock last Saturday.
Having already been without Oli Shaw, Connor Randall, Carl Tremarco and Ross Draper, Kettlewell insists the Dingwall side do not have their troubles to seek.
Kettlewell added: “We are probably sitting with eight or nine guys that are injured.
“It’s a challenging time for us relating to injuries. We picked up three more at the weekend on top of five or six we had missing from Saturday.
“It’s not easy, but I’m not making that an excuse for our level of performance at the weekend.
“We have our challenges relating to injuries, but hopefully we can tidy a few of them up for the weekend.”