It's been 25 days since Raith Rovers fell to defeat at home to Queen of the South. While most of the world is grateful to see the back of 2020, the start to 2021 can only be described as chaotic for the Kirkcaldy club who will need to get up to speed quickly as they face league leaders Hearts. John McGlynn's men have seen two postponements, a rearrangement for a cup-game that got ultimately got shelved and then a COVID outbreak at the club leading to a fourth consecutive match being scrapped.
Ultimately, it means that the club have only just returned to training a day before one of their toughest tests this season and it's impossible to say which players will be available. The only certainty for the club is that forward Lars Lokotsch won't be making an appearance having negotiated his release from parent club Livingston to return to his native Germany. The forward's departure might offer McGlynn a chance to review his options up top and with a free space for a loanee it wouldn't be a surprise to see a potentially new face come in before the end of the month.
One surprise thrown up during the period of 'inactivity' was the arrival of Kai Kennedy at Stark's Park. The Rangers winger had a successful spell at Caley Thistle who had wanted to keep him but the logistics of his deal meant that he wanted a more centralised club. Kennedy gathered plaudits from both Rovers supporters and those further afield so it was great to see John McGlynn move quickly to secure his signature.
This will be the first opportunity for the clubs to meet in the league. The Betfred Cup game saw Hearts run out 3-1 winners courtesy of a Craig Wighton hat-trick. The Tynecastle side fielded what was largely a fringe team in that competition with their focus more predominantly being based around the league. It's understandable that Rovers fans might feel a sense of trepidation that we'll be going to face the runaway leaders on the back of a 10 day spell with next to no preparation. With Dundee drawing away to Arbroath, the Jambos will be looking to capitalise on any further potential slip ups as they continue to distance themselves from others below them.
It's been a long time since the heady days of summer where social media was a flurry of exchanges between fans of both clubs. There will still be elements of each support who'll be happy to give you their views of what happened last summer. A lot of bitter words were exchanged before - it can be pretty galling to read views of people online who actively want your club to go bust because of "self-interest". Similarly, there's probably Hearts fans who found the reaction of Rovers fans to be tasteless when they're celebrating a 'gifted' promotion. Having engaged in a degree of shithousing myself, if you ask the question "Do I regret it?" I'd refer to the words of Craig Levein:
Whatever your opinion on the votes in the summer, the events of the last week on Pratt Street show that Scottish football is in a hugely precarious position: while people can only speculate on what will happen next you would have to imagine that the Scottish Government would look to halt the league should any cross-team infections break out on the back of a game. Clubs are now required to test on a weekly basis if they want to play - it's a price worth paying given that there wouldn't be any football for Rovers if they were still in league 1.
As expected, Robbie Neilson's side have made a beeline right for the title. January has offered a chance for the Jambos to do some tremendous business: Gary Mackay-Steven has returned from America and should run riot at Championship level provided he stays away from the Water of Leith. Outside of this, they've extended the contracts of Stephen Kingsley and Michael Smith.
The Tynecastle side's depth is more akin to a club in the top 6 of the Scottish Premiership: they have a squad littered with veteran internationalists. It would take a collapse of incredible proportions for them not to be lifting the title at the end of the season. You can't really pinpoint one standout player given how many can be game changers on their day.
Yet with this said, they've been by no means invincible. For both of their resolute performances against Hibs and Celtic in the Scottish Cup they've lost to both Dunfermline and Alloa. For John McGlynn's side, the two matches represent a free hit: there's absolutely zero expectation of them to do anything even before accounting for their 10 days of self isolation.
If Rovers go to Tynecastle and were to secure a win it would go down as one of their most unlikely victories in the club's history - you'd have given us better odds of winning the game where we were 3-1 down to Airdrie with 10 minutes to go and with 10 players on the pitch. Football is full of surprises though - it's part of the beauty of the game. The next five games for ourselves could have a big bearing on how well we can do this season: the double header against the Jambos is followed by the rearranged games to Dundee and Dunfermline before a trip to Cappielow to face Morton.
As ever, the match will be streamed by the home side. HeartsTV offers a pay per view option and the 'ticket' cost is £18.50. Until 2pm tomorrow, we'll be left entertaining ourselves in a guessing game of who Rovers will have available to play.