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Ross County and Celtic will face different pressures in clash, says Staggies boss Malky Mackay

Ross County manager Malky Mackay.
Ross County manager Malky Mackay.

Malky Mackay reckons some Ross County and Celtic players will be experiencing pressures they have never yet faced as they chase big prizes from this weekend.

The Staggies manager, and former Hoops defender, knows all about what it takes to handle the heat of playing for an Old Firm club.

As the sides prepare to lock horns in Dingwall on Sunday, County are chasing a European place for the first time in its history.

Celtic have a six-point lead over Rangers with five games to go, an advantage which could be whittled down to three if defending champions Gers defeat Motherwell on Saturday.

Ange Postecoglou’s men head north on the back of a 2-1 extra-time Scottish Cup semi-final loss against Rangers at Hampden on Sunday.

Country consumes football 24/7…

Mackay, whose team are fifth and only one point away from Dundee United, explained how he sold Scottish football to some of his recruits earlier this season.

He said: “There are players from both teams that have never been tested in circumstances like this before.

“I mean that in terms of the fervor of what a whole country actually lives, eats, sleeps and breathes.

“It is one of the things at the start of the season I used when I was trying to lure some of the English-based players up here, trying to put that over to them.

“I said they were going to come and be in a situation where we eat, sleep and breathe football in Scotland – in the papers all the time, on the television and radio all the time.

“That’s something they don’t get underneath the Championship in England.

“They’ll get 15 minutes highlights on a Saturday night and that’s it. The local paper will come and see them.

“I said: ‘come to Scotland and you can become a star up here’, given the spotlight and the passion people have for it.

“Take it to the Celtic and Rangers level and some of them have never had the degree of adulation, the spotlight and the pressure that’s on them this season.

“They’ve never had that, no matter what club they’ve been at abroad. They’ve not had what they’re now having to show they can deal with.”

Strong mentality needed at Old Firm

Mackay, who played for Celtic for five years from 1993, experienced the highs and lows of pulling on the famous green and white shirt.

He explained the pressure their players must handle every time they cross the white line.

He said: “Celtic and Rangers – and I say this from the perspective of having been there – face pressure every day.

“From my very first week at the club, I felt it, even pulling on the jersey for the reserves.

“Every time you pull on a Celtic strip, even if it is a junior team in pre-season, there’s an expectation on you.

“It is the same with Rangers – exactly the same.

“You are the biggest game of some club’s season, and it shows. They are trying so hard in every game against you.

“There’s the pressure from your own fan-base and there’s pressure from the press. The whole country’s eyes are on you.

“That’s what Celtic and Rangers face every week and that’s why, to play for them and play regularly, you have to have a certain mentality.

“The people with longevity at these football clubs are the guys with real strength of mentality.

Ross County manager Malky Mackay is on the hunt for a top-five European place.

“There are plenty who come in and out and can’t handle the size of pressure that’s on them.

“If you embrace that and are a footballer who can handle it, you’re a player that understands that it is the kind of pressure you actually want.

“It means you’re playing in front of the biggest crowds, playing the biggest clubs and going into European occasions against some of the world’s best.

“That’s what they have to deal with that we don’t.”

Massive pressure on Celtic to win

And Mackay expects the spotlight will be shining fully on Celtic as they aim to leave Dingwall with three points, having needed a stoppage-time winner to get the job done in December.

He added: “For Celtic and Rangers, going for the league after that semi-final with an unbelievable atmosphere and a Rangers win.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou is chasing a double for the Parkhead club.

“All of a sudden, this – Celtic up at Ross County – becomes a huge game for them, an even bigger one than it was maybe going to be in certain eyes.

“Then there is next week’s game, the derby, which is monstrous.

“The other players in the mix – us, Hearts, Motherwell and Dundee United – we’ve all got our own pressures of what our targets are.

“But dial it up a 100 for Celtic and Rangers.”

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