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Ross County v Celtic: Key battles ahead of League Cup semi-final

A look at some of the key battles that could be decisive at Hampden.

Head-to-head: Richard Forster (left) could come up against James Forrest at Hampden.
Head-to-head: Richard Forster (left) could come up against James Forrest at Hampden. SNS

The last time these two sides met at Hampden, Ross County caused a Scottish Cup upset by knocking out Neil Lennon’s Celtic side in 2010.

Scott Boyd and Michael Gardyne remain at the Staggies from the starting XI who defeated the favourites that afternoon and are likely to be influential figures again this weekend.

Ross County were a First Division side at the time but since winning promotion to the top flight they’ve faced Celtic a further 13 times, winning just once.

Here are some of the key battles which could play a major role in deciding who books their place in the League Cup Final this weekend.

Michael Gardyne v Kieran Tierney 

Wing: Michael Gardyne (left) could meet Kieran Tierney on the flank.
Wing: Michael Gardyne (left) could meet Kieran Tierney on the flank. SNS

As one of the remaining players from the 2010 team, Michael Gardyne knows exactly what it takes to pull off a shock at the national stadium.

Ross County’s all-time top scorer celebrated his 30th birthday last weekend and will be hoping to use all of his experience to help drive his side on.

The right winger could be up against youngster Kieran Tierney who has started four of the last five Celtic games and looks to be securing the left-back position as his own at the expense of Emilio Izaguirre.

There may be 12 years between the pair but Tierney isn't lacking in experience. His own European exploits this season will stand him in good stead ahead of yet another big tie for Ronny Deila’s side.

Callum McGregor v Jackson Irvine

Former team-mates Callum McGregor (left) and Jackson Irvine are now on opposing sides.
Former team-mates Callum McGregor (left) and Jackson Irvine are now on opposing sides. SNS

Former Celtic youngsters Jackson Irvine and Callum McGregor could come up against each other at a ground where they enjoyed Scottish Youth Cup success together.

The pair won the trophy three times at Hampden and both scored in the 8-0 demolishing of Queen of the South in 2012, with McGregor netting a hat-trick and Irvine cracking a long-range drive in off the woodwork.

Irvine suffered a broken nose in last week’s win over Motherwell but vowed to play on regardless and says he won’t need a face mask for this weekend’s fixture.

McGregor, meanwhile, hasn't missed a match since the end of November and is continuing to provide a goal threat despite slotting into the more defensive midfield position in the absence of Scott Brown.

Liam Boyce v Jozo Simunovic 

Celtic's Jozo Simunovic (left) will come up against Ross County's Liam Boyce.
Celtic's Jozo Simunovic (left) will come up against Ross County's Liam Boyce. SNS

Back in contention after breaking his hand at the end of December, Liam Boyce could be Ross County’s not-so-secret weapon on Sunday.

It could see Brian Graham relegated to the bench but with 17 goals in 26 appearances, Northern Irish striker Boyce will be a significant threat to centre-half Jozo Simunovic.

Manager Jim McIntyre admitted on Thursday he would be crazy not to consider playing Boyce at Hampden, with him scoring six goals in as many games over the festive period.

Simunovic has been a regular since slotting into Deila’s back four but has helped keep just five clean sheets in the 18 games he’s had a run-out.

Leigh Griffiths v Andrew Davies

Collision: Andrew Davies (right) gave away a penalty in August 2015.
Collision: Andrew Davies (right) gave away a penalty in August 2015. SNS

While Ross County have Liam Boyce, Celtic have their own striker who’s been scoring for fun this season.

With 27 goals in 34 appearances Leigh Griffiths will be the main threat in front of goal at the national stadium.

Staggies defender Andrew Davies will have the responsibility of keeping the Scottish striker quiet, something he failed to do on the opening day of the season.

Just four minutes into the game at Parkhead, Davies’ clumsy challenge on Griffiths led to an early penalty award which he subsequently converted. Ex-Bradford man Davies will have to be on his game on Sunday if he is to keep him quiet during his current run of form.

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