BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
DAVID GRAY is adamant Hibernian’s Europa League dream will not hinge solely on the future of Celtic target John McGinn.
The Scotland internationalist dazzled in his first competitive outing of the season on Thursday, notching two assists and a goal as Neil Lennon’s charges claimed a surreal 6-4 victory against NSI Runavik.
McGinn’s impressive outing in Toftir ensured the midfielder would be ineligible to play for the Hoops in the Champions League until the group phase, should they finally get their man, and underlined Lennon’s willingness to utilise his prize asset as long as he remains a Hibs player.
Gray is acutely aware of McGinn’s importance to the Hibs side and how pivotal he could be in an altogether tougher Europa League second qualifying round clash against Asteras Triplolis of Greece at Easter Road next week.
However, he has dismissed the notion that their continental progress will live or die depending on whether McGinn takes to the field.
“If you lost a player like John McGinn, then he will be difficult to replace,” said the Hibs captain, who also found the net in a breathless night in the Faroes Islands. “He is a fantastic talent and one of the best young players coming through in Scotland at the moment.
“But at the same time, we have a really good squad and I’m sure there is work going on in the background to make sure that, if he does move on, then the manager can bring people in to strengthen again. That’s the nature of football.
“We have a good core, confidence levels are high and we can’t wait for the next round.
“With John, if he stays then we know exactly what we’ll get. He will be the same player and character as always. If he moves on, then the best of luck to him because he deserves it for being brilliant in the last couple of seasons.
“We all know the type of player you get with him, regardless of what else is going on behind the scenes. Even if he is not having a great game, you know you will get 100 per cent effort and endeavour.”
The former St Mirren man has been a revelation since joining the capital club from Barnsley in a £175,000 deal, scoring four of their 12 goals in the aggregate triumph against Runavik.
Brought in for his guile from open play and devastating set-piece delivery, Mallan has hit the ground running in sensational fashion – and Gray reckons the 22-year-old is a wonderful example of practice paying off.
“Stevie is a fantastic addition,” lauded Gray. “I remember playing against him in previous seasons and every time he shot, he seemed to score – with a few cracking free-kicks among those.
“It’s brilliant that he has managed to come in and do that straight away for us. It’s no fluke, he practices them all the time and gets what he deserves for those hours he puts in. Not just on set-pieces but his general delivery, he works so hard.
“It’s great that we are creating chances and scoring goals. That’s positive for the boys and the confidence levels at this stage of the season.”
Indeed, stretching back to the final match of last season – a 5-5 draw against Rangers – Hibs have scored 17 goals in their last three competitive games. Potency is evidently not an issue for the men from Leith.
Sloppiness in defence, however, is a concern for Gray after shipping four goals in Toftir, with Faroe Island internationalist Klaemint Olsen running riot with a hat-trick.
A repeat of such a casual display will see this immeasurably more talented Asteras Tripolis, who have reached the Europa League group phase in two of their last four campaigns, enjoy a field day at Easter Road.
“We can’t defend against anyone like that, never mind Asteras,” acknowledged Gray. “You will get punished at any level for that, but hopefully it acts as a bit of a wake-up call and we can get back to working hard and correcting the mistakes.
“We always feel we can create, the disappointing aspect was defensively because we pride ourselves on being solid.
“Hopefully, Thursday was a bit of a one-off in terms of the defending and we can just focus on getting a good week’s training under our belts. Because we know we are in for a tough game in the next round, that’s for sure.”