Ross County manager Malky Mackay expects Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic to be extra dangerous in Dingwall this Sunday.
The Hoops lost their first domestic match since September when Rangers ended their treble bid with a 2-1 Scottish Cup extra-time victory at Hampden last week.
The post-split fixtures for the Staggies kick off with Sunday’s showdown, following their dramatic 1-0 win at Aberdeen two weeks ago where they denied the Dons an upper half finish.
The chance to win a European place by finishing in the top five is also a realistic target and they have got form to back up the confidence within their ranks.
With 40 points, fifth-placed County are level with Motherwell and only one point poorer than Dundee United.
It took Celtic until deep into stoppage time to win 2-1 at the Global Energy Stadium in mid-December and that was the last home loss suffered by County.
Ange Postecoglou’s side are six points clear of second-placed Rangers with five games to go.
The Light Blues, the league’s defending champions, will face Hearts in next month’s cup final and are in the Europa League semis.
They can halve that gap to three ahead of the Highland test for Celtic if they beat Motherwell on Saturday.
Hurt Celtic aiming to bounce back
Former Celtic player Mackay knows the rare disappointment for the Parkhead team at Hampden will only fire them up further when they head north.
He said: “We’ve got Celtic this weekend, off the back of their semi-final defeat – which means there is a wounded animal coming up here.
“By the same token, they are also realising their great rivals, the team they are vying for the league against, has just beaten them.
“They then have a huge Old Firm test the following week. It is going to be hard for them.
“Rangers are just sitting there, having got through to a final and riding high in Europe, with a fantastic semi-final ahead of them.
“Every one of the teams in the next few weeks are going to be absolutely at it. There won’t be a manager allowing their team to drop.”
Mackay rates Postecoglou highly
Australian Postecoglou has already won top titles in his home country, as well as Japan, with Japanese stars Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda, Yosuke Ideguchi and Reo Hatate excelling in Scotland.
And Mackay, whose team lost 4-0 at Parkhead last month, is impressed by Postecoglou, who has silenced any early doubters with a surge to the top of the table and winning the League Cup.
He said: “Ange is very focused and very driven. He’s very respectful, I have to say, when I’ve met him and chatted.
“We don’t know each other, but this season we’ve had a few texts. What I’m seeing is someone very driven, quietly confident in his own ability.
“From what I hear, he is quite quiet about the place, but he has recruited very well. Clearly it is his recruitment.
“He’s been in Japan and it is Japanese players who have come in and two or three others.
“He clearly has a way he wants to play and he has a body of work behind him as well.
“There is his Australian work and then he’s gone to Japan and got Japanese work.
“He’s had the confidence to walk into that cauldron there in Glasgow and, losing three of your first six of the season, anything can happen.
“That resilience under fire… Any time I see his press conferences, even at the start of the season, it is nice and calm.
“He didn’t let it get to him too much and that’s because he’s an experienced manager and has been through a lot of it before.”
No dead rubbers for final five games
County head to Tynecastle to tackle Hearts next weekend before playing Motherwell (home), Rangers (away) and Dundee United (home) as they chase their first European qualification.
Mackay is thrilled to have his Staggies chasing a major prize until the middle of May a year after the club won a relegation battle under John Hughes.
He added: “Celtic and Rangers clearly have something massive to play for. Hearts players are going to be playing for their cup final place because, knowing (boss) Robbie Neilson, you don’t perform, you don’t get into his team.
“Again, it is clear what Motherwell, ourselves and Dundee United are playing for in terms of European qualification.
“There’s no dead rubber in these five games, for any of these teams, which is why this split works so well. It is bringing excitement right to the end of the season, which is what a league should try and do.
“We’re certainly on a run of five games where every one is going to mean something, which is what I wanted it to be.”
All the information you need ahead of this weekends fixture with Celtic at the Global Energy Stadium.
— Ross County FC (@RossCounty) April 19, 2022