David Gray: Lessons learned from Celtic loss key to Hibs’ fightback against Rangers
David Gray has insisted Hibs’ second-half fightback to claim a third successive draw against Rangers proved Paul Heckingbottom’s players had learned the lessons from their Scottish Cup defeat by Celtic just six days earlier.
The Easter Road skipper admitted it was a case of simply hanging on during an opening 45 minutes as the Ibrox club went ahead through Daniel Candeias. But, he revealed, the fact they were trailing only by a single goal at the interval gave them belief they could still salvage something from the game.
They did so through Flo Kamberi but, claimed Gray, Hibs might even have gone on to win the match, citing a string of important saves from Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor while bemoaning a couple of missed chances.
He said: “It was a good game for the neutral, I suppose. First half, I thought Rangers were very good and we struggled to get a grip of the game and there was some great defending from individuals, putting their bodies on the line, blocking shots and staying in the game really.
“Unfortunately, they scored from a breakaway when we could have scored, the first time we’d got a foothold in the game.
“Against Celtic, I think we were guilty of giving the ball straight back to them every time we tried to break the line and I think against Rangers, especially in the second half we managed the game better, broke a lot better, our quality was better.
“Going in at half-time just 1-0 down you think you have a chance to regroup and second half I thought we were very good, deserved the goal and might have sneaked the win being a bit greedy.”
Gray, however, agreed simply hanging on in a first half in which Rangers threatened to run away with the game was key to Hibs turning the match around.
He said: “I think that was the most important thing. We were disappointed to lose the goal on the breakaway but Rangers were very good, caused us a lot of problems.
“As the first half went on, I think we did well to ride the storm out and towards the end of the half we began to get a foothold in it.
“And for all the chances Rangers had, we stayed in the game and the longer it stayed 1-0 we knew we’d get a chance. In the second half, Rangers still had chances, but I think we created the better chances, their goalkeeper made a couple of good saves and we were perhaps disappointed with a couple we missed which might have clinched the game.”
But, revealed Gray, it was the work Heckingbottom’s players had put in on the training ground in the days before their matches with the Old Firm, concentrating on retaining possession and decision making which proved so important.
He said: “Obviously losing the game [against Celtic] was disappointing, but we worked all week on some of the positives and negatives arising from it, in terms of in possession.
“In the second half against Rangers, we were a lot better on the ball, better on the break, we started the play a bit more and trust ourselves.
“The manager said that second half we needed to try to get a foothold of the game, to start passing it a bit more because I think we were a bit rash, a bit raw first half but much better second half.
“All week we worked on when you are on the break can you penetrate or keep it a bit longer especially against teams like Rangers and Celtic who keep the ball for long periods of time.
“Sometimes you just have to put your foot on the ball yourself, keep it and make the opposition run around a bit.”
Gray insisted the draw could prove vital in Hibs’ bid to clinch a top-six finish, ten points taken from 12 in Heckingbottom’s first four Premiership matches, an unbeaten run which has given them hope of doing so.
“Definitely,” he said. “The initial target was to get top six but now we are sitting sixth want to try to step up to catch Hearts, so this was a good point towards that. We’ve got four games to go before the split, hopefully we can go into Motherwell game and get another three points.”