The Gorgie side boasted an 11-point advantage over their fiercest foes when Paul Heckingbottom succeeded Neil Lennon at Easter Road in the middle of February. At the point, simply securing top-six football appeared an ambitious target.
However, an impressive sequence of results in the Premiership has seen Hibs pick up five wins and a draw and, allied with Hearts’ inconsistent form, they are now just one point behind.
Gray was in no mood to underplay the importance of leapfrogging Hearts before eyeing the European places.
“We know we have a chance to go above them and that is all the motivation we need,” said the Hibs skipper. “To go two points above them with another game against them to come would make for an exciting time. We’ve got to keep asking the question and try to keep the momentum going. If we can get the three points to go above Hearts, we would then be looking to catch Aberdeen or Kilmarnock. A win at Tynecastle is definitely overdue.”
That would seem something of an understatement. No Hibs side have managed it since 12 May 2013 when Ross Caldwell’s last-minute goal secured a 2-1 triumph.
Caldwell is now playing for amateur side Blantyre Victoria, while the likes of Alex Harris, Jordon Forster and Jorge Claros also lined up for Pat Fenlon’s men that day.
“It’s been a while but the games we’ve had there have all been close,” Gray said. “The team that turns up on the day and settles quickest and implements the way they want to play, more often than not, gets the result.
“We want to start the game well and really take the game to Hearts. Do we go there with the confidence we can win against Hearts? Absolutely.”
This will represent Hibs’ first return to Gorgie since their 0-0 draw last October which made headlines for all the wrong reasons, with Lennon struck by a coin and one imbecilic supporter aiming a punch at Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal.
“These games are always lively, there’s animosity, there are tackles flying in and you want the atmosphere to be special,” continued Gray. “You want the fans to be noisy, passionate and even get on at the referee if they want. That’s all part of a derby.
“But there’s a line that is unacceptable to cross. Everyone knows that. Hopefully, both sets of fans can get right behind their teams in the right manner – and we put in a performance that sends our fans home happy.”