David Gray has no worries about Hibs’ ability to banish last Friday’s defeat by Dundee United and reassert themselves at the top of the Championship table.
The 1-0 loss at Tannadice allowed Ray McKinnon’s on-form team to move level on points with the league leaders and pre-season title favourites.
Many Hibs fans had hoped to be clear of the chasing pack by this stage of the season, but Gray insists the team are undaunted by the fact they are currently locked in a tight title race as they prepare to welcome struggling Dumbarton, who were knocked out of the Scottish Cup on Tuesday by Midlothian minnows Bonnyrigg Rose, to Easter Road tomorrow.
“I never expected to be miles clear,” Gray told the Evening News. “We’ve been in this league for two years and it’s not easy. We knew when Dundee United came down that they would be another challenger, along with the likes of Falkirk, who have made things hard for us in the last year or two.
“It was always going to be difficult, but we’re top of the league, and we weren’t top of the league last year or the year before. It’s been a good start to the season but we need to make sure we kick on now. It’s good to have a home game to look forward to try and get back on track.”
The result at Tannadice ended a six-game unbeaten run in which Hibs had enjoyed some comprehensive wins over Dunfermline, St Mirren, Ayr United and Queen of the South. It also extended United’s unblemished run to 11 matches. Although there appears to be genuine momentum building at the Tayside club, Gray believes Hibs can regain control of the title race if they get back to the impressive form they showed in the weeks prior to the setback against United.
“It’s important we just concentrate on what we’re doing,” he said. “If we keep playing the way we have been then we’ll be fine because, with the exception of last Friday, we’ve been playing some really good stuff over the last five or six weeks.
“Last week was disappointing because we know we can play a lot better. I felt we controlled the game at times, and if Martin Boyle scored the penalty it would probably have turned out differently. Unfortunately they scored their penalty and we missed ours.”
Hibs are expected to add some new faces in the coming weeks, with Celtic attacker Kris Commons emerging as a target, as revealed by the Evening News. Gray believes that any potential January recruits, coupled with the return from injury of key men, will ensure that his side are well equipped for the business end of their promotion push.
“Missing people like Fraser Fyvie and John McGinn is a blow, but we’ve got James Keatings coming back and it’s good for Dylan McGeouch to be getting games after missing so much of the season,” said the skipper. “We’ve got a really strong squad and the manager’s mentioned that he’s hoping to strengthen in January, so we might be even stronger going into the second part of the season.”
Head coach Neil Lennon knows some supporters are growing restless over the fact Hibs have been unable to seize full control of the title race in the way that Hearts and Rangers did in previous seasons. However, he insists there is still plenty more to come from his team in the coming weeks and months.
“We are top of the league still,” said Lennon. “I understand the supporters getting nervy but we are not even halfway through the season and there is more to come from the team. We have been playing very well and at a high level and if we can maintain that then we will see where that takes us.
“That was our first defeat in a while and we didn’t play that badly. We didn’t deserve to lose the game – it was a tale of two penalties. If we scored ours we would probably go on to win the game. That was the only real disappointment.”
Meanwhile, French trialist Enzo Reale will not be signing for Hibs. The 25-year-old former Lyon midfielder arrived at East Mains at the start of the week and played in Tuesday’s development league match against Ross County.
After talks with Easter Road management yesterday, the former France youth internationalist was invited to return to the club next week so Lennon could continue running the rule over him. However, with options to go on trial with other European clubs, Reale has decided to look elsewhere for his next career move.