'All over the place' and 'how good we had it': David Gray and Lewis Stevenson on Hibs situation

The last time a managerless Hibs side arrived in Paisley, David Gray had a hand in the goal that sealed a 3-1 win for the visitors, then under the charge of reluctant caretaker manager Eddie May.

Caretaker Manager David Gray (right) and Eddie May oversee training.
Caretaker Manager David Gray (right) and Eddie May oversee training.

May will be in the dugout again today at St Mirren Park but only as an assistant to Gray, who has been handed the responsibility of taking the team due largely to the input of one Jack Ross.

The erstwhile Hibs manager, who was sacked after Wednesday night’s 1-0 to Livingston, all but retired the Scottish Cup winning captain and gave him a role on his coaching team.

Indeed, Ross even tipped him as a future Hibs manager. He noted his “thirst for knowledge” and, during last summer, after just a few days on the coaching staff, he identified a managerial gene in Gray.

Jack Ross was sacked in the wake of a 1-0 defeat by Livingston.

“He sees a potential future for him in the area and certainly I do too,” Ross said in July. “I know people would love that to be at Hibs – hopefully not too soon because it means he would be taking my job!”

Five months later, here we are. Gray has been parachuted into the hot seat before a critical league fixture against St Mirren.

He was very non-committal when answering the question he knew full well was coming: would he throw his own hat into the ring? Still only 33, and no matter his considerable history with the club, he would represent a considerable risk.

But there is still the possibility he could lead the club to more silverware before being relieved of his care taking duties. A Premier Sports Cup final against Celtic is now only eight days away.

Hibs defender Lewis Stevenson.

However, he stressed only has eyes on this afternoon’s clash in Paisley, and then, after that, Tuesday’s home game with Dundee. And before even turning his attention to these games, he wanted to put on record his own personal debt to the departed Ross and assistant John Potter.

“The first thing I want to say is the manager has been brilliant with me,” said Gray. “He gave me the opportunity to become first-team coach and to start my career going that way, away from the playing side.

“I was always very grateful for that. He has been brilliant with me from the moment I came in. He was great to work with, same with Potts.

“As a player, it’s a little bit different when a manager leaves. I felt a lot closer to the manager because you are involved from a decision point of view so you feel a bit of responsibility as well. It was a sad day on Thursday, one that shocked me.

"I was a bit all over the place, a bit flat. It’s never nice when someone loses their job, especially when you are close like that. It’s difficult.

Gray made only five appearances last season, the then manager’s only full campaign in charge, before hanging up his boots.

“He very rarely picked me in my last year as a player, but I’ve not got a bad word to say about him,” he said.

“I got on with him and he was always very good with me, on and off the pitch, even when I wasn’t playing. It really did hurt people around the place because of the culture and atmosphere he created. Himself and Potts were obviously really liked.”

Even across a Zoom call the shock pulsating through the corridors of East Mains was palpable. It was also possible to detect no little dismay. It has not been a popular decision amongst the players it seems.

Gray does not speak for them any longer of course. But Lewis Stevenson, who signed a contract extension last month, certainly does.

“It was definitely shock,” he said. “It was sadness. On his CV, he’s finished third for the first time in 15 years, taken the team to two cup finals. The club’s in a far better place than it was.

"He’s brought young boys through who are going to be assets for the club.

“When you look back, he’s done a really good job. But it just shows you, you’re only six or seven games away on a bad run from losing your job.”

Stevenson did not seem to be in favour of such seeming short-termism. Who is? Some fans, who called for Ross's head, are on side with the course of action. Owner Ron Gordon who, via chief executive Ben Kensell, delivered the coup de grace on a bleak midwinter’s night in West Lothian, will have to account for it.

“I don’t think people realise how good we had it,” explained Stevenson. “He was a real manager for the players. He would stick up for us, he looked after us. It’s a really good place to come and train – even if I’m playing or not playing, I wouldn’t say a bad word about him, because it’s been brilliant.

“Training’s organised and it’s been enjoyable. He was really good, it’s just hard to put your finger on why things didn’t work out. I just don’t think people maybe realise how good we had it.”

The players will now need to respond to a different voice although it’s hardly an unfamiliar one. While Gray was coy on the subject of team matters, he does have two immediate problems in defence: replacing the suspended Paul McGinn and Paul Hanlon. How he must wish he himself was still an option.

Stevenson imagined his old team-mate might want to implement some of his own ideas. “He obviously has a lot of respect in that changing room,” the left-back said. “He has been in that coaching role for six months now and has taken to it really well. He loves the game. He is a scholar of the game…is that what you say?

“I am sure he has learnt a lot from the old manager. He is non-stop football – I am sure he has a few things up his sleeve and a few things he wants to change.”

The first thing Gray is well aware he needs to change is the losing habit that left Ross so exposed to the whim of an owner.

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