Hibs were riding high the last time they played Celtic. Neil Lennon’s side were sitting second in the league and had the opportunity to make a statement at Parkhead.
They scored twice but could not prevent the hosts taking the points by wining 4-2 in one of the games of the season to date.
David Gray had already succumbed to a frustrating leg muscle injury. His absence has coincided with Hibs’ slump. They now lie eighth after going seven matches following the Celtic defeat without a win. The hope around Easter Road is that Saturday’s victory over Hamilton has re-ignited their campaign. Another win in Sunday’s televised return match with Celtic would underline this.
Further helping boost Hibs’ morale is the possibility Gray could make his long-awaited return. The club skipper has been their lucky mascot.
Hibs are unbeaten in all competitions in the ten games he has started in the current campaign – he has also scored five times in total. Until Saturday Hibs hadn’t won in the league without him.
But they can’t afford to take a chance with his fitness. Gray was set to make a comeback against Kilmarnock at the start of this month but, when he awoke on the morning of the match, he didn’t feel quite right.
“I probably tried to push it a little bit towards the Kilmarnock game but had a bit of a setback,” he added. “I probably did a little bit too much too quick to try and get back as soon as I could.
“I am taking every day as it comes at the minute. The last thing I want to do is push it and break down again. I am no use to anybody when I am injured.”
That’s not completely true. Gray was revealed to have instigated the recent team summit where players sought to get to the bottom of the poor recent run. Midfielder Stevie Mallan, pictured, revealed this bonding exercise last week and, while Hibs could only draw with St Mirren the following day, they finally got another win on the board in Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Hamilton Accies.
Gray’s influence has been felt even while he has been sidelined. “I was the instigator of the meeting – that’s the sort of thing I would do – but I’m not one for screaming and shouting or having a go at anyone,” he confirmed. “It was more a case of knowing that we would all benefit from having that sort of discussion. Some things came to the fore that people weren’t happy with and wanted to change, and that was the right place to do that.
“There were no raised voices and it was all constructive,” he added. “Everyone is striving for the same result, after all. We all knew the facts of the matter: results weren’t right and we were not where we needed to be compared to the start of the season. It is difficult because we have been on such a good run for the last two and a half years. We’ve been flying. “So, when things weren’t quite going right, it was important we all got together and made sure we stuck together.”
For all that Hibs’ recent results have been poor, they are still not out of the running for a top-four place. A couple of good results can make a significant difference, especially during a spell when the games come thick and fast. “They face Celtic, Rangers (twice) and Hearts before the winter break as well as Livingston. Their next three games are all at home.
“Our objective has not changed,” said Gray. “We’ve had a bad run of results but everyone needs to remember we don’t become a bad team overnight. We started the season really well and before going to Celtic last time, there was a chance for us to go top of the league. So we are not too far away.
“A little run of results can really catapult us up the table and we are definitely looking above us. We need to firstly get into the top six, then top four and then just see how far we can go.
“We can’t look beyond the run of fixtures coming up though. They’re going to be difficult but we’re more than capable of putting a run together.
“Even though we’re eighth we’re still in striking distance of the teams at the top, which just shows you how tight the league is this season.
“Everyone is capable of beating everyone on their day. There is no reason why we can’t put a run together.”
l David Gray was speaking during Hibs’ Christmas visit to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.