A win over Queen of the South this afternoon may not be enough to guarantee Hibs finally get their hands on the Championship title but it will, insisted skipper David Gray, leave Neil Lennon’s players with a virtually unassailable lead.
Victory would ensure that both Morton and Dundee United would be unable to catch the Easter Road outfit but should second-placed Falkirk pick up all three points against a rejuvenated St Mirren, the Bairns would still have a remote chance, nine behind and with a vastly inferior goal difference.
Although he is sure there will be thousands of Hibs fans within Easter Road keeping him and his team-mates abreast of what is happening in Falkirk, Gray insisted Lennon’s players can’t afford to lose focus as they face a side still hoping to clinch a play-off spot.
Agreeing that it’s almost become a weekly refrain that Hibs could take the title, Gray said: “It’s more a case of making sure it does happen and that’s what we are concentrating on.
“I suppose in an ideal world it would have been done a couple of weeks ago, but I have said many times that this is a hard league, one that is very difficult to get out of, although the sooner the better obviously.”
Underlining Gray’s contention that the Championship is a tougher competition than many give it credit for is the fact that Ayr United have ten points more than the 21 gained by relegated Alloa Athletic last season and yet Ian McCall’s players find themselves bottom of the heap with four games to go.
In fact, with the possible exception of Dunfermline, every side still has something to play for with only four games remaining, not least Queen of the South.
Gray said: “Three points will put us in a fantastic position given the goal difference between us and Falkirk. It’s entirely up to us, Queens have something to play for, they are pushing to get into the play-off spots and have hit a bit of form.
“We’ve always had tough games against them, they’ve some good players who have hurt us in the past so I’m fully anticipating a difficult game.”
The fact that nothing less than a win would probably do Gary Naysmith’s side should ensure that the Dumfries outfit don’t adopt the tactic favoured by most visitors to Easter Road in recent seasons, namely that of “parking the bus”, getting everyone behind the ball to frustrate and, hopefully, hit on the break.
Gray said: “Queens have something to play for as well, it’s not as if they are downing tools, have nothing to play for and are in holiday mode.
“They have something to play for, but we have everything to play for so it has the makings of a right good game. I’d imagine our fans will let us know how Falkirk are getting on against St Mirren but we can’t rely on Saints to do us a favour.
“We’ll only worry about how that game has gone at quarter-to-five. If we’ve got the three points we know we’ll be in a very strong position regardless of how Falkirk do in what is a difficult match for them.”
Pressed as to whether he’d rather do it on points or goal difference, Gray admitted: “It doesn’t matter as long as we win the league, that’s all we want to do.
“We are in a great position and while three points today might not do it mathematically, it makes it very hard for them. With three games to go it would still be very much in our hands.”
Winning the title, as Hibs will inevitably do, a question of when rather than if, has provoked some debate among Hibs fans, a faction adamant it would be reason to party and others less inclined to do so, adamant their club should never have been in the second tier of Scottish football in the first place.
Gray can understand both sides of that particular argument but, he insisted, the most important issue was that the Capital club make that return to the top flight after a three-year absence.
Asked, having said that, if taking the title would top last season’s historic Scottish Cup triumph, the right back said: “Good question. I’ve said many times that last season we were thinking about promotion. The cup was a massive bonus but we move on and all we are thinking about now is promotion – although we do have another bonus in going back to Hampden next week for another semi-final, a game [against Aberdeen] which will be difficult but one we are capable of winning.
“It’s about the next thing, of trying to be as successful as possible for this club. The Premiership is where this club needs to be, so from that point of view it is more important. When you look at the facilities we have, the stadium, the training ground, the fanbase and so on we should be in the top league.
“At the minute we think we are good enough and it doesn’t matter how we get there.
“But there will be something of a relief to finally get it done because we now how difficult it has been. It is something that is vital for this club.”