Hibs boss Alan Stubbs today revealed David Gray could be back in action next weekend, less than a month after undergoing a groin operation.
And Stubbs believes it won’t be long before, finally, he has a full-strength squad available for virtually the first time this season with striker Dominique Malonga due back from the Africa Cup of Nations within the next ten days at the latest while his fellow hitmen Farid El Alagui and Franck Dja Djedje are rapidly recovering from injury.
Gray had battled through the pain barrier for weeks before being forced to undergo surgery following the New Year derby against Hearts at Tynecastle with the prediction being he’d be out for between four and six weeks.
The 26-year-old had his op on January 11 and could have been sidelined until late next month, meaning he and could potentially have missed seven matches in total.
But now, the tough-tackling right-back is being pencilled in for a return in the Scottish Cup clash at Easter Road against League Two leaders Arbroath a week tomorrow – a tie which takes place just six days before Hibs face Rangers in the battle for second place in the Championship table.
Gray returned to light training only three days after surgery and has since stepped up his rehabilitation to the point Stubbs feels confident he’ll be pulling on a shirt having missed only four games.
The head coach said: “David is a very hardy lad. We expect him to be back with the group within the next week and hopefully he’ll be back for the Cup tie and, if not, the Rangers game.”
Gray’s absence forced Stubbs to field both Lewis Stevenson and Callum Booth, both naturally left-footed, on the right flank but he’ll return to find direct competition for that place in the shape of Keith Watson, who has arrived on loan from Dundee United until the end of the season.
Stubbs said: “David has been outstanding for us this season and has rightly made that right-back spot his own. But he knows that like any other position on the pitch there’s great competition for places.”
Dja Djedje made his debut as a second-half substitute against Falkirk days after clinching an 18-month deal with Hibs, only to then pick up a hamstring injury which has forced him to miss the club’s past two games. And although he’s likely to sit out the visit of Raith Rovers tomorrow, Stubbs was hopeful his return to training was imminent.
El Alagui, who has been out since August, is expected back “sooner rather than later”, according to Stubbs.