Hibs vice-captain David Gray could be out of action until the end of February after finally being forced to have an operation on the groin problem which has dogged him for weeks.
The 26-year-old has been pencilled in for surgery on Monday, with the recognised recovery time from such an operation normally between four and six weeks. Gray will miss a crucial run of games as Alan Stubbs’ side face three of their biggest rivals for a Championship play-off place – Falkirk, Queen of the South and Raith Rovers – as well as Cowdenbeath before January is out.
The right-back will also sit out Hibs’ Scottish Cup tie at home to Arbroath on 7 February and possibly further league games against Rangers, Dumbarton and Alloa.
The Easter Road medical staff had been nursing Gray through matches recently in an attempt to have him available over the festive period although it was acknowledged he’d have to go under the knife sooner rather than later to repair the damage.
The approach paid off, with Hibs clocking up wins over Alloa, Raith and Rangers – Gray scored the opening goal in a 4-0 victory over the Ibrox side – although the former Manchester United youngster had to be substituted before the final whistle on each occasion.
Surgery had already been lined up before the weekend trip to Tynecastle, where Gray was being forced off at half-time.
Stubbs said: “Unfortunately David couldn’t see the game out. He was desperate to try and do it, but he was struggling.” The 26-year-old’s could be replaced on the right flank by defender Jordon Forster, who is completing his recovery from an appendectomy, while left-back Callum Booth can also fill in on the right-hand side.
The 1-1 draw at Hearts allowed Queen of the South and Falkirk to gain ground on the Easter Road side with victories over Livingston and Alloa respectively.
Fourth-placed Queens are now level on points with Hibs and fifth-placed Falkirk are just three points behind going into this Saturday’s clash between them and Stubbs’ men at Easter Road.
The Bairns are the only team to have beaten Hibs twice this term, but Stubb has urged his players to turn that form around and pull themselves away from the chasing pack.
Stubbs said: It’s a chance for us to get a big crowd at Easter Road again. They are potentially going to be one of our challengers for one of the play-off spots, so it’s a chance for us to try to put another performance in and create a gap between the teams below us.”