The Easter Road side bowed out of the Europa Conference League after an 8-0 aggregate defeat by Aston Villa, with some pride restored at Villa Park with an improved performance, while Aberdeen were knocked out of the Europa League competition by Swedish side Häcken. But the caretaker boss wants his players to treat the game like a showpiece event.
“That has to be the mindset. In the dressing room after the Villa game there was a disappointment because we were out of Europe but the reality of the situation was that it was always going to be a tough task,” Gray said. “The focus now turns towards Aberdeen. It’s been a fantastic run in Europe but if we want nights like Thursday, we have to earn them.”
Both Gray and Lee Johnson, who was relieved of his duties on Sunday after a 3-2 home defeat by Livingston on the Saturday, spoke about the players deserving a chance to perform on such a big stage against an elite team.
“I said to the players before the game that they’d earned the right to be on that stage because of how well they did last season and how well they’d done in Europe to get to this point,” Gray continued. “But if we want more nights like this, we need to get our domestic form back to where to needs to be and that starts on Sunday away to Aberdeen. It becomes a cup final for us before the international break. It’s really, really important.”
Hibs don’t have a great record at Pittodrie in recent years, and speculation continues to mount over the identity of the next permanent manager with Central Coast Mariners boss Nick Montgomery the latest to signal an interest.
“Everyone is well aware of what’s at stake. We need to go up there on the front foot and put in a good performance to get the right result,” Gray added. “I’ve been in this position before and I’ve been asked to do a job for the foreseeable future. Until that changes, I’ll continue to do this to the best of my ability.’