When the Scottish Premiership returns on January 17, there are three clear battles set to resume.
The early stages of the season hinted at Hearts being title contenders as Robbie Neilson’s Jambos began with a rousing 11-game unbeaten run before losing 2-1 at Aberdeen on October 30.
Since then, they have won five and lost four and certainly lost any hope of being shock rivals to the Old Firm.
They are 15 points behind defending champions Rangers and nine points poorer than Celtic.
However, they are in third spot and have earned a five-point advantage over Motherwell, who have Hibs and Aberdeen on their tails after rollercoaster first halves to their campaigns.
Positive changes at Glasgow clubs
Rangers and Celtic, with their respective new managers Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Ange Postecoglou, are now guiding the Glasgow clubs towards the usual two-horse title showdown.
Gers fans have been thrilled by the perfect start made by the Dutchman since he replaced Steven Gerrard at Ibrox, while wise words and passion are keeping Hoops fans fairly happy about their Aussie at the wheel.
Dons firmly in European hunt
Thomas Courts’ Dundee United are seventh and two points adrift of Aberdeen and I genuinely can’t see enough from within their ranks to suggest they will be European hunters.
Hearts have stated their case, although they’ve opened the door to Well, Hibs and the Dons in the chase for third spot. Those sides’ mid-month openers could set the tone for what is to come.
Hibs kick back off away to Celtic on January 17, Aberdeen host Rangers on January 18 and, on the same night, Hearts host toiling St Johnstone and Motherwell are at Ross County.
For me, the current top six have every chance of being there at the end of the season, although I expect the order to shuffle as the rivals for prizes jockey for position.
Aberdeen had a horror spell from mid-August to mid-October, but Stephen Glass’ side have been on the rise, rounding off the year with four victories from five outings to sit sixth.
Although I don’t expect Dundee United to put pressure on the European contenders, I don’t see them being dragged in the other direction.
They may well finish best of the rest and, with striker Tony Watt potentially joining from Motherwell this month after agreeing to move to Tannadice on a pre-contract from next term, that will ensure there’s no danger of being dragged into trouble.
The Tangerines are nine points richer than their 11th-placed neighbours Dundee and are more likely to add to that advantage than see it reduced. They are back on January 18 with St Mirren heading to Tannadice.
Staggies look strong for survival
That leaves a five-way survival battle, which right now Ross County must be confident of emerging from under Malky Mackay.
Over the past 10 games, only Rangers, Celtic and Hearts (just) have beaten them and they are the fourth-highest scores in the division behind the top three sides.
Eighth-placed Livingston are six points away from bottom side St Johnstone, but only four points clear of Dundee, who are in the relegation play-off position.
St Mirren, under Jim Goodwin, have not had their troubles to seek with Covid.
At full strength, they’re a team capable of making the top six, but it won’t happen for them this year as they and Livi pull off enough positive results to stay above the watermark.
Dundee, riled by playing and losing at Aberdeen with a decimated squad just before the break, have lost five in succession after a mini-revival.
County, who have beaten the Dark Blues twice, seem to have more about them, although the gap is a mere two points.
Perth Saints need sharp revival
St Johnstone, last term’s sensational double cup winners, are in real trouble. Any neutral marvelled at their achievements, sparked often by ex-Caley Thiste star Shaun Rooney, as they lifted the two knock-out trophies.
Saints boss Callum Davidson has a different kind of magic to work this time and who he brings in and clears out will be crucial to their chances.
Of course, transfer window activity can tip the balance one way or another and we will watch what happens off the field as much as on it as clubs regroup.