Ross County manager John Hughes said the absence of crowds made his first game back in the dugout for more than three years a surreal experience in last night’s 2-0 loss to Celtic at Parkhead.
Hughes took charge of his first game since replacing Stuart Kettlewell at Victoria Park on Monday, with a goal in each half from David Turnbull and Leigh Griiffiths securing the points for the Hoops.
It is Hughes’ first management job since he left Raith Rovers in summer 2017, and he felt the lack of spectators was a noticeable change.
Hughes said: “I absolutely loved it – but this is not football. This is the first time I have been back, and it’s not normal. When you come back to Parkhead you’re used to 60,000 roaring and a great atmosphere.
“It was strange and eerie, but I’m only saying that for me. It’s something that I’m sure the players are getting used to.
“It’s not going to change, but the quicker the supporters are back in the stadium the better.”
County’s defeat sees them remain four points adrift at the foot of the Premiership and, although Hughes took encouragement from the performance, he feels there are also plenty of areas to work on ahead of Saturday’s game at home to St Mirren.
He added: “It was enjoyable. I was quite glad we came to Parkhead first, because we were playing against the champions and I could see who was up for it and what we’ve got. I could see who was not fazed by it.
“In terms of quality, I’m honest enough to say it has to be better, our ball retention has to be better.
“The effort and commitment was very good. That’s what Celtic do, they peg you back so when you get it sometimes there is nowhere to go.
“If you open up and play more, they are capable of cutting you wide open.
“The goals we lost were preventable. We have to stop that, but I saw a togetherness. There’s enough there for me to know if we get a bit of luck we could be all right.
“Celtic is not our challenge – our challenge is in the bottom half of the league beating the teams around about us. Our cup final is really St Mirren.”
County were dealt a blow during the first half when leading scorer Ross Stewart went off with a hamstring injury, with Hughes hopeful he will be fit to face the Buddies.
Hughes added: “Ross Stewart had a tight hamstring, but we got him off, so hopefully he will be all right for Saturday.
“That’s a bit of lady luck again. If he’s not, someone else will have to stand up and say ‘I want a bit of that’.”