Given the self-effacing nature of David Gray, it comes as little surprise that he is reluctant to attach any significance to the fact that Hibs are undefeated in the ten matches he has started this season in all competitions.
Instead he is more preoccupied by the sense of frustration caused by the niggling muscle injury that has prevented him from helping his team, on the park at least, during their recent period of difficulty.
In the six Premiership matches Gray has started this term, Hibs have won five and drawn one. By contrast, Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Hamilton Accies, which ended a seven-game sequence without a win, was also the first time in ten attempts that the Easter Road side had won a Premiership fixture without their captain in the starting lineup.
This may be due merely to quirky coincidence or it could be an indicator of Gray’s importance to a side still adapting to the loss of other mainstays of recent seasons, such as John McGinn and Dylan McGeouch. Either way, the skipper was in no mood to make much of a stat which paints him in a positive light at a time when his team have been struggling.
“I was wondering when you were going to bring that up,” he said, when his impressive record was put to him during the club’s annual Christmas visit to Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital. “I’ve been reminded of that a couple of times and it’s obviously a nice personal achievement this season but at the same time I haven’t played for the last eight games which is the most frustrating thing for me. I can’t look at anything other than that. I’m not helping anyone when I’m not playing. I need to concentrate on getting back as quick as I can and make sure I’m ready to contribute to the team.”
With five goals to his name already this season despite his relative inactivity, supporters are eager to see Gray back in the mix. It remains to be seen, however, if he will be ready to return for Sunday’s showdown with Celtic at Easter Road. The inspirational right-back is making good progress, but after suffering a setback just hours before he was due to face a Kilmarnock at Rugby Park a week past Saturday, he is understandably wary of declaring himself fit for the visit of the league leaders at this stage of the week.
“I’ve no idea if I’ll be ready for Sunday,” he said. “I’m just taking it a day at a time at the moment so we’ll wait and see. I stepped it up a bit today so we’ll wait and see how I feel in the morning. I’ll be in all week working as hard as I possibly can. It’s not just about being ready for the Celtic game, though, we’ve got Rangers three days after that. There are five games in two weeks, which is mental, so I need to make sure I’m right.
“I probably tried to push it a little bit towards the Kilmarnock game but had a bit of a setback. I probably did a little bit too much too quick to try and get back as soon as I could. It was just overstretching – I knew it wasn’t quite right when I woke up. I didn’t want to rule myself out straight away but the physio thought it was the right thing to do and I am benefiting from it now. It’s feeling good and it’s progressing every day.”
While hopeful of being involved on Sunday, Gray is mindful of the need to avoid jeopardising his prospects of featuring in the matches that follow, with the visit of Celtic kicking off a run of five games in less than a fortnight. “I am taking every day as it comes at the minute,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is push it and break down again. I am no use to anybody when I am injured. I obviously want to get back as soon as I can, but at the same time I want to be able to contribute. I need to be patient and respect the injury but at the same time I am desperate to get back.”
The last time Gray played, he helped his team climb to second in the Premiership with a 6-0 demolition of Hamilton at Easter Road. In the intervening period, they have slipped to eighth, with Saturday’s win over Accies the first in eight games for Hibs. Frustration has been two-fold for Gray, with his inability to contribute exacerbated by his team’s slide down the table.
“When you are not playing you are hurting anyway because you are not out there but when the results are not going your way as well, it is more difficult to take,” he said. “You are powerless. There is nothing you can do to help the lads and you feel you are not involved as much. But we are lucky in that we have a great dressing room. Everyone is together. We knew there was not a lot wrong. We just needed to build on what we were doing well and get back to basics. It showed against Hamilton at the weekend that we are not too far away. It’s fine margins in recent weeks but we were delighted to get the three points.”
Despite his lack of involvement on the pitch, Gray has still been playing a captain’s role off it. Midfielder Stevie Mallan told last week how a team meeting was called in an effort to get to the bottom of the recent malaise. The captain was the instigator of what has proven to be a constructive discussion.
“I’m not one for screaming and shouting or having a go at anyone,” he explained. “It was more a case of knowing that we would all benefit from having that sort of discussion. Some things came to the fore that people weren’t happy with and wanted to change, and that was the right place to do that. There were no raised voices and it was all constructive. Everyone is striving for the same result, after all. We all knew the facts of the matter: results weren’t right and we were not where we needed to be compared to the start of the season. It is difficult because we have been on such a good run for the last two-and-a-half years. We’ve been flying. So when things weren’t quite going right, it was important we all got together and made sure we stuck together.
“We have a real close bunch of players in the dressing room. Everyone gets on really well. When you are losing games and not getting results you are expecting to get then you need to look at yourself first and foremost as a player. Can you do better? Is there anything else that you could be doing to benefit the team? That’s what we had. It was an honest discussion to see if everybody could say they were doing as well as they could and was there anything more they could do to change it and help things.
“It’s important that you’ve got to be able to take criticism and, more importantly, own up and take responsibility for your own performances. Sometimes it can be easy to just shy away from that but we have a really good bunch here and were determined to put it right. Everybody was hurting, everybody cares and we all wanted to put things things right. Thankfully we managed to do that at the weekend and we can look forward with confidence to the Celtic game.”