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Perfect 'dress rehearsal' for cup final-bound Highlanders

INVERNESS Caledonian Thistle will walk out at Celtic Park today and face the Scottish champions.

They might just let their minds drift forward, though, a couple of weeks till the next time they will tramp the same turf.

"It is a bit of a dress rehearsal for us," admitted James Vincent. Inverness, of course, will make the long trip to Glasgow to face Aberdeen in the League Cup final on March 16.

Vincent, who was snatched from the rather more humble surroundings of Kidderminster Harriers in the summer, felt a strong sense of affirmation the last time he travelled to the home of Celtic, to help secure a 2-2 draw in August. Some friends and acquaintances had questioned his career choice in moving north to Scotland rather than seeking instead a challenge in England's Sky Bet Championship or League One.

Getting the chance to step out at the cavernous Parkhead stadium was already reward enough, but his new club's storming season - still on for a cup double and chasing Europe in the league - fully vindicated his switch.

Vincent, who has dazzled since his arrival despite a lengthy injury, said: "We want to win the game [today] in it's own right, but we have a chance to go there and get used to the surroundings a few weeks before the League Cup final.

"The pitch is always great but the atmosphere will be good, although perhaps not quite as good as the final. It will be good preparation for us.

"It's a massive spell for us in the league and cups. It's an exciting time for the club and these are the games you want to be involved in. There is everything to play for in all of the competitions and it's in our hands."

His manager John Hughes was philosophical about whether this was a good or a bad time to face Celtic, coming as it is after their devastating surprise loss to Aberdeen in midweek.

"It is like them taking a punch in the chin," he said, sagely. "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."

Hughes has seen the atmosphere at Celtic Park take its toll. "I've seen a lot of people and it affects them, either positively or negatively," he said. "I saw how it affected one wee guy who is now coaching at Inverness - Russell Latapy. He never used to even bother going out for a warm up. He'd have a fag in the toilet."

Oh, how times have changed.

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