David Gray plays a captain's role as Hibs return to league duty on the back of 1-0 cup victory over Forfar
With just three minutes remaining, David Gray rose at the back post to head home a Stevie Mallan freekick.
It was enough to take Hibs to the top of their Betfred Cup group but Jack Ross will be happy to see the back of this competition for a while.
The value of these group games for top tier sides tends to be the opportunity they give them to ease back into a new season and make the transition from pre-season friendlies to full-blown league action.
But, with a quarter of the Premiership season already gone, due to the Covid delay, the benefit of trudging all over the country, playing lower league teams in a group format is less obvious.
Hibs small squad was stretched against Forfar, and with an entire team unavailable for selection, he named just three outfield subs, against a team that sowed rel hunger to impress after being
It has been a testing time for Ross as he copes with the reality of contesting multiple competitions while also answering the international call for players when squad numbers are already tight.
While it has meant that no-one has been left carping on the sidelines, irked at being denied their chance to shine. It has meant that their time on the pitch hasn’t always been in their preferred position.
A side that has been looking balanced and competitive in the early league matches, the input of the attacking options has been well-noted but the foundation for their current place in the highest echelons of the league standings has been the defensive displays.
With Ofir Marciano in goal and a consistent backline of Paul McGinn, Ryan Porteous and Paul Hanlon, the line-up has been completed, originally by Josh Doig and latterly by Lewis Stevenson, and augmented by the cover Alex Gogic can provide from midfield.
Earning plaudits galore in the first ten games of the league campaign, in the past three Betfred Cup games, wholesale changes have been necessary, as McGinn, Porteous and now Hanlon answered Steve Clarke’s call to arms, and Josh Doig is in self-isolation after doing the same for Billy Stark at u-21 level. Marciano’s Israel commitments and Gogic’s call-up by Cyprus, allied to Stevenson picking up at knock against Cove Rangers meant that, against Forfar, there was a heavily rejgged rearguard.
David Gray had already operated in a central berth in his previous outing, and Melker Hallberg was again asked to reprise the right back role he played to decent effect at the weekend. Sean Mackie made his first start of the season at left-back and Darren McGregor added experience in front of stand-in keeper Dillon Barnes.
But they combined to give the men ahead of them the clean sheet, frustrate their lower league opponents, who worked hard to press and rattle them.
There weren’t lots of chances at either end as the ball took a battering but thanks to the defences ability to stand firm, one goal was all it would ultimately take.
Ross had thrown Martin Boyle and Kevin Nisbet on with 30 minutes remaining but having helped lay the foundations, it was Gray who grabbed the goal and the glory.
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