Hibs verdict: Dave ja vu as Gray echoes Jack Ross and Shaun Maloney after Livi loss
It is hard not to feel sympathy for David Gray, as he steers Hibs towards an underwhelming end to the league season.
For all the talk of finishing as strongly as they possibly can, and targeting seventh, it all feels very flat. With the Easter Road side mathematically safe from the dreaded relegation play-off place the next three games are about as dead-rubbery as they come – for Hibs at least.
Speaking after Saturday’s defeat he was crestfallen. Hibs had amassed 18 shots on goal but debutant ‘keeper Ivan Konovalov barely got his gloves dirty, with not one shot finding the target. Harry Clarke, Josh Doig, Paul Hanlon, Elias Melkersen, Joe Newell, James Scott all had half-chances.
Such toothlessness in the final third is not Gray’s fault, of course. It’s part of what he inherited when he stepped into the breach for a second time this season.
He didn’t speak of fine margins, a la Ross, or tread Maloney’s line about wanting more aggression in the final third.
Players shot when they should have passed, or sought out a team-mate when they might have had a go themselves. Some of them dithered around the edge of the area when they had nothing to lose by pulling the trigger.
We didn’t learn anything new about this Hibs team. Problems in the final third and not enough variety in midfield, hampered by the continued absence of key players.
In any other season, this might be time to mix things up by giving youngsters a run-out. But with the under-18s facing a hectic schedule as they scramble to finish their own league matches and stringent rules on how many minutes youth players can complete in a certain space of time, that is highly unlikely to happen.
Regardless of what happens at Hibs in the final few games, Gray is also trying to beef up his own managerial credentials. Three wins from the remaining three games would look much better on his CV than a mixture of draws and defeats, so he has that to think about as well.
The former Hibs captain routinely avoids discussing his future. ‘That’s not a question for me’, he tells us.
It may become clear before the end of the season, should Hibs appoint a permanent successor before the curtain finally falls.
We know he harbours hopes of becoming a manager in his own right, but there is a rather sizeable elephant lurking in the room: does he take the plunge and leave Hibs for a lower-league job and work his way up, or does he stick around at Hibs, hoping to further sharpen his coaching credentials under a third manager, and maybe get the nod in the future?
Whatever he chooses to do, there are three games left – Aberdeen and St Johnstone at home, with a midweek trip to Dundee in between – for Hibs to pick up as many points as they can.
Maximum points would help Gray’s own cause but it could also be instructional for any prospective new manager who might be watching on and studying the players, but also the coaching staff.
Low-key end to the season aside, Gray will have to keep spirits as high as possible and aim for nine points out of nine, if only for his own benefit.