He may be club captain and will forever be regarded as a legend thanks to his historic Scottish Cup winning goal. But David Gray admits such is the strength of Neil Lennon’s squad even that’s not enough to guarantee him a starting place in any Hibs side.
The right-back had been limited to just one minute of first-team action as the Easter Road side returned to the Premiership, replacing match-winner Vykintas Slivka as the Capital side enjoyed a victory over Rangers at Ibrox.
However, he finally got the start he’d been craving as Hibs travelled to face Dundee last Sunday, the 29-year-old naturally delighted not to have been facing another day sat on the bench.
He said: “Obviously it’s been frustrating not to be playing, everyone wants to be playing and that’s the challenge for us all this season. We have a really strong squad and the manager is going to have a headache every week.”
Missing the opening match of the league season thanks to a suspension imposed after picking up six bookings last season didn’t help his cause, the win against Partick Thistle that day followed by another three points in Glasgow easing boss Neil Lennon’s thoughts on selection.
A miserable performance and result against Hamilton, though, resulted in Lennon making four changes for the trip to Dens Park, Gray’s name being among them.
The 29-year-old said: “I knew I was missing the first game through suspension, that’s part and parcel of football.
“I’ve had to be patient with the boys starting the season well with the exception of the second half against Hamilton.
“Up to that point they’d done well. I had to be patient, train as well as I could to make sure I was ready when the opportunity arose so I was delighted to get the nod.
“We have a really strong squad and just because you are captain it doesn’t give you the divine right to play. It’s about how you deal with it, you keep your head down, apply yourself in training and work as hard as you can every day.”
Gray’s return coincided with a much-improved display on Tayside only for Hibs to be forced to settle for a draw after again gifting the opposition the opening goal – the fourth consecutive game in which they’d done so.
And that is something he admitted he and his team-mates have to eradicate, saying: “It was frustrating we didn’t win the game. It would have been nice to go into the two-week international break on the back of a win and the way we played I thought we deserved to win.
“It was definitely an improvement from the previous week, which was important. But you are giving yourself an uphill challenge right away when you concede the first goal.
“As defenders we get paid to keep clean sheets and every time you don’t do that you are disappointed. We keep giving ourselves a mountain to climb and while it is great we’ve shown the character to come back in all but one of those games, we can’t keep leaving ourselves in that position.”
Although he conceded there’s an obvious difference between the Championship and the top tier of Scottish football, Gray insisted that wasn’t the reason behind Hibs’ slow starts.
He said: “The step up is obvious, every single game is a challenge and a different challenge. There’s nowhere in the league you can go and say you have the right to win, you have to earn that right.
“We had a difficult start against Dundee. They came out of the traps very quickly, but other than the goal they scored we dominated the game. We’ve said we want to finish as high as possible and we firmly believe we can do that. But we need to start keeping some clean sheets.”
Defeat by Hamilton and a draw with Dundee has taken a little of the gloss off Hibs’ promising start but Gray believes that with a two-week break Lennon’s players will return ready for their next match, away to St Johnstone.
He said: “When you’ve won your first two games it’s frustrating the way the second two have gone but that’s the level of opposition we are playing. It’s a good thing in a way to be coming out of an away match disappointed with a 1-1 draw. The most important thing was the performance following what had happened the previous week.”
Gray believes Martin Boyle, out with an ankle problem for the past three games, will be fit for McDiarmid Park, while the break has also come at the right time for central defender Darren McGregor after a knee problem flared up at the weekend.
He said: “St Johnstone away will be difficult. We should have Martin back and we know how dangerous he can be, he is a nightmare for defenders with his pace.
“The break will also do Dazza a favour and anyone else who might be carrying a week knock will have time to shake it off, which means the manager will have plenty of decisions to make at that time.”