They’ve all been lining up to take a bit of a kick at Hibs.
Before even pulling on a maroon shirt for the first time, Hearts striker Soufain El Hassnaoui had dismissed the Easter Road outfit as lacking quality, while claiming the Championship title was a two-horse race between his club and Rangers.
Then Ibrox defender Bilel Mohsni weighed in, writing off the chances of Alan Stubbs’ players as they headed for Govan, having found themselves second bottom of the table with just two league wins to their name.
To be fair, there were probably a few Hibs fans too who thought their season was all but over before the first quarter was even out. As they say in football, everyone is entitled to their opinion.
But while it might have seemed at times as if the world was against them, Stubbs, his backroom staff and players stuck together, adamant their performances hadn’t been reflected by results, while professing a determination to continue “doing things the right way,” confident such an approach would, sooner rather than later, see things turn in their favour.
Stubbs is far too humble a man to be crowing “I told you so” following Hibs’ emphatic and thoroughly deserved 3-1 victory over Rangers in their own back yard, but, according to defender David Gray, the barbs which had been hurled in their direction had been treated as nothing more than water off a duck’s back.
Scorer of Hibs’ second goal at Ibrox, a powerful header sandwiched between a glory double for teenager Jason Cummings, Gray, like his head coach, remained coy as to whether Mohsni’s rant had been used in any way as a motivational tool, contenting himself by saying: “People can say what they want, we’re happy to tick along and do what we need to do.”
And to that end the former Manchester United trainee revealed that while Monday night’s result might, as Cummings stated, have been regarded as something of a “coupon buster,” it came as no surprise to anyone within the away dressing-room.
He said: “It might have surprised some, but most definitely not us. People have been writing us off in the title race. We are not interested in that – we’ve just been concentrating on what we are doing.
“We know the results have not been good enough recently, but there’s always been an eagerness to put that right.”
A timely League Cup victory away to Premiership Ross County allied to the memory of an impressive performance in the Petrofac Training Cup at Ibrox at the beginning of August, a game which many felt Hibs would have won had Danny Handling not been harshly sent off, were the foundations upon which a win which lifted the Capital club to fifth place were laid, disclosed Gray.
He said: “We weren’t looking at being second bottom, only concentrating on a performance, tightening up and not losing the soft goals we’ve been conceding. It’s not only back-to-back wins, but two great defensive performances, defending from the front and being hard to beat.”
Three goals in a devastating 13 minutes in the first half had Rangers reeling and the Ibrox fans in uproar but, insisted Gray: “Obviously that was good from our point of view, but the most positive thing was we kept going and kept going. It wasn’t as if we got the goals and then sat back.
“Rangers are a massive club, Ibrox is a hard place to visit so to go there and play the way we did is a credit to the lads.”
Gray agreed that Hibs might have rocked a bit when Nicky Law threw Rangers a lifeline ten minutes into the second half but, again, he was full of praise for his team-mates having found himself an anxious spectator sitting on the away bench having felt a hamstring tighten.
He said: “We’d expected Rangers to come out after half-time and have a go. I’d imagine being 3-0 down they’d got a bit of a rollicking. The positive thing for us is that while they scored quite quickly in the second half, we kept going.
“Being three up seems comfortable, but when they score there is that shift in momentum, their fans have something to shout about, but the best thing you can do is to silence the crowd again. The clock seemed to go slow in the second half and while they pushed I felt we were always in control and might even have got ourselves another goal.”
Having adopted a 3-5-2 formation in Dingwall, Stubbs fielded the same formation at Ibrox, sticking with a back three of Jordon Forster, Paul Hanlon and Liam Fontaine even when Gers boss Ally McCoist threw on Jon Daly to partner Kris Boyd and subject Hibs to an aerial bombardment with Fraser Aird and David Templeton deployed on the wings to supply ammunition.
Gray said: “I thought defensively we were superb. The three centre-halves got their heads to virtually everything that came their way. They seem to be complementing each other really well in the new system.
“There’s a real determination to make sure we don’t lose a goal and it’s great to see aggressive defending like that.”
While it’s all very well to enjoy a victory at Ibrox, Gray agreed it would count for little if Hibs don’t make it count with home games against Raith Rovers and Dumbarton to follow.
He said: “It’s a real opportunity for us to try to push on, but we must take it one game at a time with the focus entirely on Raith this weekend. There’s no point beating Rangers at Ibrox if we let ourselves down. We need to go into Saturday’s game on the front foot, address them in exactly the same way we did Rangers. We don’t raise our game for anyone, it’s 100 per cent every time.”
As much as he and his team-mates enjoyed the win, Gray insisted they took even more satisfaction from the reaction of the Hibs fans who’d travelled to Glasgow, probably more in hope than expectation.
He said: “They were there in their numbers as they were at Ross County. We’ve had an indifferent start to the season, but they have been fantastic sticking by us. It’s been frustrating for them. When you support a team you want to see your team winning and we have not been getting enough results for them.
“We could hear them singing all the way through the game so it was pleasing to reward them with a win.”