David Gray knows an operation on the groin problem which has been troubling him for the past few weeks is inevitable, but he’s determined to continue playing through the pain barrier as Hibs gear up for two massive games against Rangers and Hearts.
While Easter Road boss Alan Stubbs believes other players would have succumbed long before now, Gray insists he’s enjoying his football so much he has no intention of quitting until it is absolutely necessary.
Instead of going under the surgeon’s knife, the only cut on his mind is slashing the gap between Hibs and second-placed Rangers tomorrow, a target he believes is totally realistic given the Capital club’s 3-1 win at Ibrox earlier in the season.
The right-back said: “We’d gone there in our very first game of the season in the Petrofac Cup and I felt we were very unlucky to lose in extra-time. Having Danny Handling sent off was a big turning point as I thought we were in full control at that stage and had Rangers on the back foot.
“It was disappointing to end up losing, but we took confidence from it and when we went back for the league game we knew we had nothing to fear. It was a case of sticking to our gameplan knowing if we did so, we’d be hard to beat. That proved to be the case. It was a great performance, a great result and one which was fully deserved.”
Rangers, of course, are a club in turmoil at the moment, manager Ally McCoist having been put on gardening leave on Sunday after handing in his notice a fortnight ago. His assistant, Kenny McDowall, takes charge for the first time tomorrow, with the under-pressure Ibrox side 12 points behind table- topping Hearts.
Gray, however, was quick to play down any suggestion that their opponents will be distracted by their well-documented off-field problems. He said: “Rangers are still a massive club, the players are the same, they have a really good squad. You could say results have not been great, but they are still up there.
“They lost to Queen of the South which is what everyone will reflect on, but Palmerston Park isn’t an easy place to go to. I watched the game and Queens played really well. Since then, Rangers have won a couple of games but our target tomorrow has to be cutting the advantage they have over us to four points.”
While Hearts have grabbed all the headlines with their unbeaten start to the season, Gray believes the fact he and his team-mates, beaten just once in their last 12 Championship matches, have been building up a head of steam has gone largely un-noticed. He said: “Earlier in the season we felt results weren’t matching our performances but more and more we are grinding out results which is credit to the lads. It’s not been easy, a lot of players came in this season and a lot left while the club had to deal with relegation. It was unsettling for everyone. It takes time to turn that round, but I believe that slowly but surely we are starting to get the fans back on board which is great.
“One defeat in 12 isn’t a bad statistic, it’s a case of concentrating on ourselves, but the chance to cut the gap on Rangers has to be a massive incentive. Do that and we’ll have them looking over their shoulders.”
On a personal level, Gray has happy memories of Hibs’ last clash with Rangers after the 26-year-old scored his first-ever competitive goal that night, his header sandwiched between two strikes from Jason Cummings. He said: “It was brilliant to get it. I’d gone close a few times in my career, hitting the woodwork, but it wasn’t something that preyed on my mind because down south as a defender the emphasis is on the defensive side of the game.”
Gray has since gone on to add a second, notching the winner in the recent Scottish Cup triumph over Alloa Athletic, but he’s a tad disappointed not to have a greater tally. He said: “I’ve had a few more chances, against Alloa I’d hit the post and put another header over so it was third-time lucky.
“It’s great to have the licence to go forward and get into these positions. That’s credit to the way the lads are playing. We are creating a lot of opportunities, confidence is flowing through the team, we’re keeping the ball well and it all seems to be falling into place.
“For us lads at the back, we feel we are in with a chance with every set-piece which is testament to the quality of delivery from Scott Allan and Liam Craig. Liam Fontaine got one against Raith Rovers at the weekend, I’ve got a couple, as has Paul Hanlon, so to have defenders chipping in with goals can only be good for the team.”
Tomorrow’s match is followed by the third Edinburgh derby of the season and Gray admits he’s desperate not only to face Rangers but Hearts at Tynecastle despite having to battle his groin problem. He said: “It’s one of those things, something I will have to address further down the line. But obviously I am desperate to play in these games, these are the ones you want to be involved in. It’s a case of knuckling down and getting through it.
“The damage is already there but we’re trying to manage it as best we can and sometimes the occasion, matches such as these, the adrenalin kicks in and takes you through.
“I want to play in as many games as I can because I am enjoying playing every week. It’s great to be part of a team and a squad that’s full of confidence. I want to play, there’s no better feeling than getting to that time on a Saturday knowing I am going out full of confidence and then getting the right result.”