Given the choice, David Gray would obviously wish it had never happened. But it did, the saving grace as far as the Hibs skipper was concerned being that the 6-2 mauling he and his team-mates had suffered came on the opening day of the season and in a competition which ultimately counts for little rather than their ultimate aim – promotion.
Gray was the first to admit Mark Warburton’s new-look Ibrox side had exposed shortcomings he’d never have thought existed 40 minutes into the Petrofac Training Cup clash between the clubs, Hibs ahead thanks to Sam Stanton’s strike and seemingly in control of the tie.
However, a quick one-two from James Tavernier and Martyn Waghorn turned the match on it’s head and throughout the second half Alan Stubbs’ side looked a pale shadow of the one which was widely regarded as the best footballing outfit in the Championship as Rangers strolled to victory, one which many will claim reinforces their title credentials and at the same time all but demolishing those of Hibs.
Branding the loss of six goals at home as “unacceptable”, Gray nevertheless insisted the experience is one he and his team-mates will strive to never endure again, adamant the flaws so evident during that torrid second 45 minutes can be addressed through hard work on the training ground.
The defender said: “We were very disappointed. As a team we were not good enough defensively. We lost too many easy goals, we gifted them goals at crucial times although, to be fair, up until they scored we were in control of the game. We’d started really well, but credit to their guy, it was a great free-kick, top corner.
“I don’t think they’d had a chance up to that point. It was a sucker punch, but we know we need to tighten up.
“But if there’s ever a time to lose a game, it’s definitely now. It’s so early on in the season but to lose six goals at home is not acceptable and we know that, especially as defenders.
“It wasn’t good enough, but the one thing you couldn’t fault was the boys’ work ethic, they worked really hard. For some of us it was the first 90 minutes we’d had and as the weeks go on we will get stronger and fitter. To be honest, I’m glad it happened now rather than four, five or six weeks time.”
Stubbs’ squad had been left rather threadbare for the visit of Rangers, with James Keatings, Dan Carmichael, Farid El Alagui and Martin Boyle all recovering from injury, while the latest recruit, Marvin Bartley, was also absent as he works on attaining full fitness, that fact reflected in the appearance of three teenagers, Aaron Dunsmore, Callum Crane and Jordan Sinclair on the bench despite not having a minute’s first team experience between them.
The Scott Allan saga had resulted in the Rangers target being left on the bench by Stubbs, although the midfielder did make a second-half appearance as Jordon Forster was added to the casualty list with a hamstring problem, Paul Hanlon reprising the role he had played in his early days with Hutchison Vale by taking a step forward.
Gray, though, refused to go looking for excuses, sticking to the footballing adage that one player’s absence provides an opportunity for another. He said: “You can look at it that we were missing some key players but the other side of it was that young Scott Martin came in and I thought he did really well.
“He worked hard and showed that if required he can step up to this level which was a credit to him. Sam Stanton took his goal well but, again, it was an opportunity he got when had everyone been fit he might not have.
“But obviously the fans will be excited about the new signings and yet disappointed they have not seen any of them yet. However, that’s just one of those things that happen in football.”
The days leading up to the match had been dominated by Rangers chase for Allan and Hibs determination not to sell their greatest asset to their biggest Championship rivals but, Gray insisted, the “will he won’t he” headlines hadn’t been a distraction.
He said: “We want to keep our best players, especially when you talk about him going to Rangers. It’s above our heads, we have to concentrate on the game and get on with it.
“The best players are always going to get touted for other clubs, but at the end of the day it’s nothing to do with us. We are professional football players, we get paid to play football and to be honest that’s all we have to worry about.
We do not worry about decisions that are made at the club, we have a job to do and we have to try to do that to the best of our ability and whatever goes on of the pitch is really out of our hands.”
However, having said that, Gray admitted Hibs’ stance and their repeated insistence that Allan won’t be allowed to move for Rangers – two bids having already been rejected out of hand – was “a real positive statement”.
He said: “The last thing you want to see is your best players going to your rivals and for the club to take that stance is really pleasing for the players. It’s one of those things, there’s always going to be speculation about players like Scott and his ability.
“It might happen to other players down the line, but we just need to stay together. We still believe we have a really good squad.”