JOHN HUGHES believes Inverness Caledonian Thistle's trip to the east end of Glasgow tomorrow has arrived at the best of times for visiting Parkhead but the worst of times for facing Celtic.
The Highland side will have the opportunity to re-familiarise themselves with the venue where they will play Aberdeen in the League Cup final on Sunday, March 16.
However, with Neil Lennon's men having lost their unbeaten record in the SPFL Premiership against the Pittodrie side on Tuesday, Hughes, part of a Parkhead team who lost only once during season 1995-96, is braced for a backlash.
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The Caley Thistle manager said: "Aberdeen's win was possibly the worst result for us. It is like them [Celtic] taking a punch in the chin. When you take a punch on the chin, there's one of two things you do.
"You either come back swinging or you go down. They will come back swinging - that's why these players are all playing for Glasgow Celtic.
"But to me, that just adds to the match. I'm really looking forward to it. They are a wonderful team and we will have to be at our best tactically, but a lot of our work on the training pitch is coming to fruition.
"With the belief and spirit that is in our dressing room, we go there with good confidence. We have a bit of momentum and last time we were there we drew 2-2, with Celtic scoring late on. I don't think it will faze us."
Hughes had a short but memorable spell at Celtic and he admits the club still holds a special place in his heart. He said: "I was proud to get the opportunity to play for them and I will never forget working under Tommy Burns. The guy had a halo above him, as far as I was concerned.
"He was a fantastic human being and had time for everyone. His man-management and coaching skills were something else, and some of the football we played that season was out of this world. The way they trained and went about their business was a wonderful lesson to me. Then there was Frank Connor . . . I was terrified of him, even as a married man of 31 with kids. He made sure you were clean-shaven and respected the values of Celtic Football Club.
"There were certain hard-working values hammered into you from day one at Celtic, and they included knowing how to win football matches. Even in my time there, Celtic didn't do back-to-back defeats. If you got beaten one week you made sure you got back to winning ways the next.
"In the players they have now, you see the pride and professionalism. They will be hurting. They will be wanting to put that right. All of that is in the mix but we have to be rubbing our hands for this one: we don't want to be at anywhere else on Saturday. I'm also delighted with the timing of our visit there as it will give us a wee taste of the atmosphere coming up to the cup final.
"You have to go there and be inspired, walk out there on that pitch with a spring in your step and go and strut your stuff. You have to be prepared to pass the ball and show the Celtic supporters how good you are individually and collectively.
"It affects people either positively or negatively. Russell Latapy [Hughes' assistant] never used to bother going out for a warm-up - he'd have a smoke in the toilet - but Celtic Park was a venue that really inspired him. You just needed to look in his eyes when we went there and you could see he wanted to be man of the match."