BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
GARY LOCKE is adamant Raith Rovers’ mouth-watering clash against Hibernian is not about him or Rudi Skacel.
The Rovers boss will cross swords with the Easter Road outfit for the first time since leaving his role as Jambos boss in June 2014, renewing a rivalry he lapped up during 14 years as a player, captain, coach and manager of his boyhood heroes.
But while Locke is hardly popular among Hibees, his reception is likely to be comparatively muted compared to the reception afforded to Hearts icon Skacel.
And Skacel has not been shy about winding up the green half of the capital, most notably choosing the number ’51’ after joining Dundee United in 2012.
Nevertheless, Locke has been quick to emphasise that the fixture at Stark’s Park is about Raith Rovers rather than Edinburgh hostilities – albeit he is acutely aware of what to expect from a sold-out away section tomorrow.
“I understand how it works – people will try to build things up, look at my past and the past of some of my players from Hearts and make the game about that,” said Locke.
“But I’m the manager of Raith Rovers, the only thing that concerns me is Raith Rovers doing well.
“Rudi [Skacel] is another who fits into that category, but Rudi is only one of 20-odd players we have at this football club and I value every one of them as much as the others.
“Obviously we’ll get a bit of stick, but I’m used to that and it’s all good natured. If we can take some of the heat off the other lads, then great.
”But this is a massive game, it will be a superb atmosphere, and it’s certainly not me versus Hibs or Rudi Skacel versus Hibs. It’s Raith Rovers versus Hibs – and hopefully we come out on top.”
Hibs arrive in Kirkcaldy on the back of four matches without a victory, while Rovers have lost four of their last five outings, leaving both sides desperate for a welcome fillip.
While insistent that Neil Lennon’s charges remain runaway favourites for the Championship crown, Locke has not been surprised by their recent travails.
He continued: “A lot of people might be surprised by Hibs’ results but, having looked at the league, there is real quality in this division. Every team is capable of beating each other and all the sides have players that can hurt you.
“In my view this is the most competitive league in the country and every game has been really tough.
“It certainly wasn’t anyone at Hibs saying things like they could go through the season unbeaten – that was other people, which can happen – and there are teams through the Championship that will beat you if you’re not at it.
“However, this is when Hibs are at their most dangerous – a club of that size, with the management team they have in place, simply won’t accept low standards, and we’ll need to be ready for them to come here all gun’s blazing.”
The former Killie flyer had been struggling with a knee injury and Locke added: “It has been a bit of frustrating spell for Chris since he came from Killie.
”However, he is now fully fit, he is running freely and looking good. It will be great to get him involved because he is a player who can get fans on the edge of their seat. We have maybe missed that over the last couple of weeks.”