David Gray’s demeanour turns to incredulity as the Hibs skipper is asked if he thinks the Championship title race will be over if his side, already trailing Rangers by eight points, lose tomorrow’s showdown at Easter Road.
“On the first day in November?” he replies. “The way Rangers are going at the moment they are flying. But we have to concentrate on ourselves and try to stop them. But I certainly don’t think it’s the case that if we don’t win then the title race is over.
“That’s disrespectful to the rest of the teams in the league. It’s a very difficult league and we have dropped points in matches we have been expecting to win this season. Every game is difficult so to say that the league would be finished is a bit silly and disrespectful to the rest of the teams in the league.”
While Hibs are actually ten points better off than last season when they pipped the Ibrox club to second place in the table, Rangers have won all 11 of their opening league matches although Hibs’ own record isn’t too shabby, eight victories and a draw since being narrowly defeated in Govan at the end of August.
It’s a run Gray and his team-mates are determined to keep going, the right-back saying: “We never started as well as we would have liked this season, but we are slowly getting going. We are on a good run. We are a good few points better off this season than last. The issue then was Hearts got off to such a good start it was hard to catch them. But we have a good opportunity to cut down Rangers’ lead tomorrow.”
Although many have labelled the encounter as a “must-win” as far as Hibs are concerned, Gray insisted: “We treat every match in this league as a must-win game. This week is no different and hopefully with a good crowd behind us we can get the right result. It’s in our hands to cut the gap if we get the win.
“It’s two sides on a good run right now but hopefully it’s us who keep that good run going. I felt we played really well at Ibrox earlier in the season and if we had taken our chances it could have been a different story. It took a great free-kick from the lad [James Tavernier] to separate the teams.
“Sometimes you get the luck, sometimes you don’t. But I am sure there are times this season we have played worse and got all three points.” Astonishingly, this will be the tenth time in little more than a year Hibs and Rangers have clashed but Gray, who scored his first ever competitive goal at Ibrox 13 months ago, insisted he couldn’t get enough of such games.
Gray, who also netted against the Ibrox side at Easter Road three months later, said: “I don’t think you can play Rangers too often. I love the big games, the Rangers end will sell out and with the Sky cameras in attendance it should be a terrific occasion.
“My goal at Ibrox was my first and I’d happily take another tomorrow. This is the tenth time I have played Rangers since I came here – it’s incredible isn’t it – but I love these games. They are so enjoyable, at Ibrox or at Easter Road. I enjoy the atmosphere and the occasion, I don’t feel intimidated by them.”
All too often this season Hibs have been confronted by opposition who arrive at Easter Road and “park the bus” in an effort to escape with a point, a tactic Gray doesn’t believe high-flying Rangers will adopt.
Gray also admitted he’s looking forward to going head-to-head with Rangers left back Lee Wallace, the ex-Hearts player, like himself someone who enjoys getting forward as often as possible. He said: “Lee has always been someone who likes to bomb on, but he’s added more goals to his game this season. Maybe he’s got more confidence in himself because the team is playing well or maybe he is just enjoying playing in the Rangers system.
“I like to get up and down the flanks too. We always come up against each other because we both like to bomb up the flanks and I don’t see it being any different this weekend.”
Gray added: “They [Rangers] have a style and like to stick to it, playing 4-3-3. Hopefully the game will open up and it will be a great match for the neutral. I don’t care if it’s 6-5 or 1-0, as long as we win the match.”