Gray: Championship experience has helped Hibs get off to flyer
Hibs skipper David Gray has insisted the Easter Road outfit have the know-how to win promotion in this their third season in the Championship.
The Edinburgh club have been left trailing in the past two seasons by Capital rivals Hearts and then Rangers following slow starts which proved to be fatal to their ambitions.
But, after taking a maximum six points from their opening two games this time round, a 2-1 win over Dunfermline following a similar margin of victory against Falkirk, Gray believes he and his team-mates can put those bitter past experiences to good use.
Pointing out how newly-relegated Dundee United’s defeat by Dumbarton highlighted how tough life can be in Scotland’s second tier, he said: “We’ve always said that in the last two seasons we failed to start well and left ourselves with too much to do.
“Look at the first season, Hearts had it won pretty much by Christmas and then last year with Rangers we had too much to do towards the end. So it’s definitely better being in front and have people chasing you rather than chasing as we have been in the last two years.”
Gray acknowledged, however, that although Neil Lennon’s players have been installed as favourites for the title, it’s going to be far from straightforward.
The 28-year-old said: “This is our third season, we know exactly what to expect. Everybody comes here and makes it really hard for us. We were favourites against Dunfermline, but they came and had a real go.
“All the pressure is on us to win, that’s how we feel. We want to make Easter Road and hard place to come.” The weight of expectation on the shoulders of Lennon’s players was evident from the bumper gate for the visit of the Pars, the 16,477 crowd the biggest of the day in Scotland. But, Gray insisted, that only made him and his team-mates all the more determined. Adamant that last season’s historic Scottish Cup triumph is now history itself, he said: “We finished last season well, that gave us a big boost and then we had the new manager come in. We’ve kept hold of players. We feel we are in a good place and we have to concentrate on paying the fans back by putting on good performances.
“The league is difficult. If you are chasing you can’t slip up. If you are out in front, they have to beat you. We want to put a string of wins together and to start with two is very encouraging.”
And, Gray argued, Dundee United will be realising just how tough life can be in the Championship, Ray McKinnon’s side having taken just one point from their opening two games.
He said: “We were beaten ourselves at Dumbarton, we lost at Alloa, at Queen of the South. It’s very difficult. We beat Premiership teams and did well against them, but it’s a different approach. We are the so-called big team in the division and we have to be ready for that.
“We’ve had a couple of years experience of it and it’s a real bonus to know what to expect. United coming down will have discovered it’s very difficult. There are no easy games.”
Gray was former manager Alan Stubbs’ first signing and, he admitted the transformation at Easter Road since has been remarkable with new boss Lennon driving the side on with his demands.
He said: “Back then was the lowest point, we only had six or seven players on the books, so from where we were then to now is a massive difference. The fans have come back in their numbers.
“It’s taken a bit of time to gel, but you can see that with more than 16,000 they are coming back. We know the fans are there. We have to make sure we keep doing the right things and I am sure they will keep coming back.
“We know the expectations are to win the league. From day one, the gaffer has emphasised that every single day and the players are responding. He puts demands on the players to be the best they can be. He expects high level in everything you do, a five-yard pass or anything.
“We have a fairly young squad but we’ve been together for almost three seasons now so everyone knows what we are trying to do.”