David Gray today admitted it’s time for Hibs to start turning draws into wins after seeing their last three Championship matches at Easter Road end in stalemate.
Raith Rovers, Dumbarton and Hearts all escaped with a point from matches Alan Stubbs side could quite easily have won, Gray conceding victories in each of those games would have made a decided impact on a league table in which Hibs trail their Capital rivals by 14 points.
A League Cup quarter-final at home to Premiership outfit Dundee United also ended all-square after 120 minutes of action, Hibs losing in a sudden death penalty shoot-out as Gray himself saw his effort brilliantly turned aside by Tannadice goalkeeper Rado Czierniak, again a match which the right-back felt could quite easily have gone his side’s way.
The visit of Queen of the South tomorrow presents Gray and his team-mates with the opportunity to break that run of home draws against a team which beat them at Palmerston Park earlier in the season, Stubbs’ players knowing a win by two goals or more would edge them ahead of the Dumfries club in third place on goal difference.
“That would be a bonus,” Gray contended, “but if you were to offer me 1-0 right now I’d take it. It doesn’t matter how we win as long as we do so, nothing other than that matters.
“Queen of the South are the team above us and the challenge is to get ourselves level with them or even ahead. Two, three or four would be good, but we have to make sure we win the game.”
To that end, Gray believes James Fowler’s team, the last to beat them in the Championship as they’ve strung a run of six league games undefeated, will tomorrow find a Hibs team which has finally found its feet following the trauma of last season’s relegation.
He said: “We know results earlier in the season when we were expected to do really well were not good enough, but results have definitely been better. We seem to have turned the corner in this division in terms of knowing what to expect, knowing it’s a difficult league and that teams, especially at Easter Road, possibly feel they have nothing to lose. Hibs are a massive club in this league and when they come to Easter Road the pressure is off them. It’s almost like a cup final and it’s up to us to try to break them down, especially when they come and ‘park the bus’.
“But I think the more and more we are playing in these games the more understanding the lads are getting along with a greater confidence.”
Head coach Stubbs has also insisted that recent displays should have rid Hibs of the accusation that they are “soft”, lacking the mental resolve when the going gets tough, a view shared by Gray on the evidence of the gritted performances recently.
He said: “We feel we could quite easily have won the games at Easter Road against Raith Rovers, Dumbarton and Hearts, which would have made quite a difference. It would have taken us a lot closer to the top two.
“I think in every game this season we’ve been in it. At Queen of the South, Matty Kennedy had a great chance early doors which would have put a totally different spin on the game but then we make a mistake, lose a goal which allows them to sit back and let us struggle to break them down.
“Alloa was another. We got ourselves ahead then lost Farid El Alagui, lost the lead and that was the turning point in that game.
“However, when we’ve taken our chances we’ve tended to do well in games and that’s what has been happening in the past few weeks. In our last three Championship matches at home, we’ve had enough chances to win quite comfortably and we didn’t do that.
“The Hearts game in particular speaks for itself with that last minute wonder goal but then we went in against what is arguably one of the best teams in the Premiership [Dundee United] and were unlucky not to win that one as well.
“It must have been a great game for the neutral to watch, but we took a great deal of confidence from it, going behind three times which wasn’t great but we pegged them back each time. We showed we are never beaten, something we’d done in coming from behind to beat Cowdenbeath at home and Dumbarton earlier in the League Cup.
“The penalty shoot-out was a bit of a lottery and although I was bitterly disappointed to see my one saved, you have to give the goalkeeper credit. I’d decided where I was going to put it, I hit it well and he’s made a really good save.”
Hibs bounced back from that setback by beating Cowdenbeath for a second time in horrendous conditions at Central Park with what Gray admitted was a different type of display, but one which, again, demonstrated the grit and determination within Stubbs’ squad.
He said: “I thought in the first half we were excellent. We dominated the game and might have had another couple of goals, but we went in at half-time knowing we had done a good job while recognising it was only half-done.
“Losing Mark Oxley was a blow, but Kleton Perntreou, I thought, did exceptionally well, coming on to make his debut. He made one great save which was good for his confidence, but it was one of those games that with the rain and wind it was great to get a result.
“After losing a goal there was the worry of conceding another, but the boys dug in and should have made it a bit more comfortable with a couple of breakaways.”