Hibernian caretaker David Gray paid tribute to Darren McGregor after the long-serving defender played what may have been his last game for the club in Sunday’s 4-0 win at home to St Johnstone.
The 36-year-old, who in 2016 won the Scottish Cup with the team he supported as a boy, still has a year left on his deal but has not played much this term and is resigned to the likelihood that he will not be part of things next term as the Easter Road side prepare to appoint a new manager.
McGregor was handed the captaincy as he made his first start since December in the final game of his seventh season at the club.
“It wasn’t just sentimental reasons that he played today,” said Gray. “He played because after Tuesday night (a 3-1 defeat at Dundee), in terms of the reaction we needed, I knew I’d have someone I could trust, who cares about the club immensely.
“He’s had nothing but success since he’s been here, he’s a great professional. You don’t play as many games as he has, to the age he’s at, without looking after yourself and doing everything right. He’s a leader and he’s an example to the young ones. He’s dealt with challenges his whole career.
“He’s been huge for Hibs. He’s been part of a hugely successful period. He joined in my second year (in 2015) and we won the Scottish Cup, then went on to win promotion, then had a record points tally in the SPFL, and has played his part in semi-finals and finals. First, it’s because he’s a top player, secondly, his attitude and his determination and work rate, and, thirdly, he really cares about the football club.”
On-loan Hull forward James Scott scored a hat-trick against Saints and Gray admits he has no idea if the 21-year-old will return to Easter Road next term.
“That’s a question for the new manager,” said Gray. “It’s great he got his goals today, I thought he played well on Tuesday night as well.
“He will say himself he’s had a frustrating season and not played as much as he would have liked.
“But whether he is here next season or not that will be between him, the club and the new manager.”
Saints boss Callum Davidson was unfazed by the defeat after making several changes to keep his key men fresh for Friday’s cinch Premiership play-off final first leg away to Inverness.
“It was really important no one got sent off or injured,” said Davidson, outlining his main objectives for this end-of-season match.
“We started the first 25 or 30 minutes well and then you could see some of the boys who hadn’t played in a while. They maybe weren’t as sharp and we dropped way off it.
“We wanted to do well but if we beat Hibs and lost to Inverness as we lost three players due to injury or suspension people wouldn’t be happy.”
Looking ahead to the play-offs as his team bid to preserve their top-flight status, Davidson said: “Guys who needed games have minutes in their legs, we will have a few boys back from injury for the Inverness game, so we will have a bigger squad available.
“It will be a tough game. Inverness showed a great spirit against Arbroath (in the play-off semi-final) but we have a positive mindset and we’ve washed away the Hibs game already. We are looking forward to Friday.”