'Mentality needs to be stronger' - Hibs head coach on defensive improvements and mentality ahead of Elgin City

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Hibs head coach David Gray opens up on the rising stars of the Easter Road outfit

David Gray is no stranger to the Hibs coaching set-up but he is just three days away from leading the side in his first match as permanent head coach.

The squad have enjoyed a hugely profitable pre-season training camp in the Netherlands, recently beating MSV Duisburg and PAOK 1-0 in friendlies, and will now make their final preparations ahead of their Scottish League Cup group stage clash against Elgin City this weekend.

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With only three days to go before the Hibees are back in action, Gray has been speaking on his defensive decisions and what’s next for Easter Road’s young guns.

The former right-back has opted to keep four at the back with many wondering whether this could be excessive. However, the 36-year-old has defended his decision by claiming that it is an area in which there is plenty of competition which the squad should not shy away from.

“It’s an area of the pitch where we have a lot of quality and competition. Chris Cadden has that flexibility of playing all the way up the right-hand side; Lewis Miller and Kanayo Megwa are flexible as well.

What I like about the three of them is that they’re all different. Cadden fills your forward-thinking full-back role, Lewis Miller’s athleticism means he can play multiple positions: he’s played right-wingback, right-back, we’ve seen him at centre-back now and he was very comfortable in that position so to have that luxury of three very good options for that position is great.

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“I don’t just see them as three players fighting for one position. We’re lucky to have players who can play more than one position.”

Speaking of 20-year-old Nigerian star Megwa, Gray added he hopes the rising starlet will soon go on to be a fixed figure in the starting XI but is aware there is work still to be done: “Kanayo played left-back against Duisburg and did well. It was a wee bit alien to him but it’s not as if he wasn’t comfortable enough. 

“I see him in the first team, being able to compete at this level. The challenge now for him is, can he become Hibs’ next right-back? There are two good options, two players who can play the same position as him, but if he’s good enough to go and take it then he’ll have the opportunity to do so.”

Megwa is not the only youngster, however, causing excitement ahead of the 2024/25 season with 16-year-old Rory Whittaker preparing for another season in Leith.

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When asked what the next steps could be for the right-back, Gray noted: “What I love about Rory is his attitude. When he comes and trains with the first team you’d think he’d been there his whole life.

“He tries things, he’s not scared to give the ball away, his reaction is always good. He’s got some developing to do physically, I think everyone can see that, and it’s a challenge for us as a club to keep pushing him on that, but we also need to remember he’s only 16.

“So he needs to be playing regularly. You don’t want him to play as many games as he did last season and only be four or five games as a squad player. Can he develop and potentially get more games under his belt? So that’s something we’re looking at, to see how that balance goes, depending on what comes forward.”

With Gray drastically hopeful that the 2024/25 campaign will see a huge improvement on the squad’s 2023/24 finishing position - eighth or second in the post-split relegation battle - the former Hibee has admitted that a huge part of the necessary changes boil down to the squad’s mindset and has admitted to Edinburgh News: “As a group, we need to be better defensively.

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“The mindset going into the last 10-15 minutes needs to be better, or recognition of what’s required in the game - is it a substitution, or something else, and it’s up to me and the coaching team to identify that to help the players.

“The mentality of the group needs to be stronger to have that ruthlessness to ensure we defend the goal with our lives, especially late on in games or, the flip side to that, if we’re pushing for goals in the game to make sure we’re doing it right to the very end.

“What we’re trying to do is have that fitness in the bank, and a way of working, and a ruthlessness to try to ensure we’re better defensively and mentally.”

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