Malky Mackay admits Ross County will miss not playing at a packed Tynecastle on Boxing Day – but insists the Staggies must get used to near-empty stadia again.
The County manager knows Sunday’s trip to face Hearts in the Scottish Premiership won’t have anywhere near the usual feel.
Only 500 home fans are allowed in following the three-week ruling from the Scottish Government in response to rising Covid cases. It is often a packed, loud arena for visiting teams to deal with.
This will also be County’s final game of the year after the SPFL confirmed the winter break has been brought forward to give the chance of allowing fans back into stadia next month.
No quick fix as supporters miss out
The County manager loves the big-game roars in the top-flight, but doesn’t expect to hear them for some time yet.
He said: “Hearts is a club I know well and I know a lot of the people there. Having watched games there, also in my role as performance director with the Scottish FA, I saw Hearts v Hibs games and I thought ‘wow’.
“That atmosphere in that stadium is terrific. I have talked about Victoria Park up here when Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen all come up and bring 2000-3000 fans with them. What a difference that makes to the atmosphere.
“For us to go there on Boxing Day and we could possibly have had 15,000-20,000 in that stadium. Players want to play in these atmospheres.
“It’s disappointing that won’t happen this weekend but it’s something we’ve all come to grips with. I hope people understand why. We are all frustrated, but it’s just the way it’s going at the moment.
“We have to get into that mindset again, of so few people being in the grounds again.
“I would love it to be a quick fix but I can’t see it. We thought we’d got by that and got the fans all back inside again.
“We then bring the three-week break forward, which is fine, but is everything going to be okay in three weeks for getting people back into grounds? I am really sceptical of that being the case.”
Rising Staggies ready for Jambos
The Dingwall side are now 10th in the table after their impressive 2-1 victory at struggling St Johnstone on Wednesday night, which moves them four points clear of the Saints and two ahead of Dundee.
Goals from Regan Charles-Cook and Ross Callachan either side of a deflected reply from Jacob Butterfield earned the Staggies a fine 2-1 win at McDiarmid Park in midweek
Callachan even saw his penalty crash off the post at 1-1, but responded to hit the deserved winner for the visitors backed by 300 County fans.
Over the last nine games, only Rangers and Celtic have beaten County, who are the fourth top scorers in the league and the fourth best side over the past 10 matches.
Mackay, meanwhile, believes third-placed Hearts, who are five points ahead of Motherwell, are there on merit and he expects his side to go toe-to-toe with them as they did in the 2-2 Dingwall draw in September.
He said: “Hearts are a terrific team in this division this season. Robbie has done a great job and he’s got exciting players. They are absolutely third on merit.
“They have played so well in many of their games and we’re in for a really stiff test on Boxing Day, there is no doubt about that.
“At the same time, I am really happy with how we’re shaping up. I thought the game against Hearts up here was terrific. We could even have won it in the last minute, although that would have been a bit of a disservice to Hearts.
“It was end-to-end and I thought both teams put on a heck of a game that day. Hopefully we can go and give as good as we get at Tynecastle on Sunday.”
The fixtures set for December 29 will now happen on Tuesday, January 18, after the advanced winter break.
County welcome Motherwell to Dingwall that night then four days later, on Saturday, January 22, they face Livingston away in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup.
On Wednesday, January 26, the Staggies are off to Dundee United before hosting Rangers on Saturday, January 29. These are both scheduled Premiership matches.
Then the fixtures, originally set for January 2, will take place on Tuesday, February 1, with Ross County and Aberdeen meeting at Victoria Park, the evening before Celtic play Rangers at Parkhead.
The Championship and Leagues One and Two will continue with their games throughout this month and into January as planned.
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