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Title joust with Rangers is just the ticket for Hibs captain David Gray 

When Hibs face Rangers on Monday afternoon, it will be the 11th meeting with their Glasgow rivals over the past 16 months.

Yet, despite playing in every one of those encounters since making his debut at Ibrox in August 2014, David Gray gives the impression that these games still don’t come around quickly enough.

It’s not just because two of the former Manchester United youth player’s four career goals have come against Rangers, either.

Defender David Gray has scored two of his four goals for Hibs against Rangers

Defender David Gray has scored two of his four goals for Hibs against Rangers

To Gray, these high-intensity battles are the very reason he became a professional footballer. Each of the 10 previous games has had something at stake.

From the two encounters in the Petrofac Cup, to the eight league matches in the second tier — and none more so than the two nervy promotion play-offs at the end of last season, in which Rangers narrowly prevailed.

However, not only is the meeting at Ibrox the most crucial of the 11, Gray (below) agrees that it could well represent Scotland’s game of the season.

‘I’m in double figures now in terms of appearances against Rangers,’ said the 27-year-old.

Hibs face Rangers on Monday afternoon for the 11th time in the past 16 months

Hibs face Rangers on Monday afternoon for the 11th time in the past 16 months

‘We played them a lot last year in the league, the cup and the play-offs and this will be the fourth game already this season.

‘I really enjoy it, especially playing at Ibrox. The stadium speaks for itself and usually the atmosphere there is great from both sets of fans.

‘You really hear it when you’re standing in the tunnel before the game. There’s excitement and a bit of nerves as well. I get a bit of anxiousness and nervousness but, as soon as the game starts, you relish it.

‘The playing surface at Ibrox is good, too. It’s just a really nice place to play football. The games between us are always good because we are two teams who want to attack.

‘People are now saying it is maybe the biggest game of the season in Scotland. It has created a lot of interest because we are level on points in a really exciting title race.

‘Rangers were so far in front early on that maybe people thought they had won the league.

Rangers boss Mark Warburton insists his side can prove superiority against title rivals Hibs

Rangers boss Mark Warburton insists his side can prove superiority against title rivals Hibs

‘But I always believed we could go on a run and I never thought Rangers would go the whole season without dropping points.

‘They were steamrollering teams earlier in the season but teams are adapting now and shutting up shop. It’s set up to be a cracking game.’

The last time the teams met, at Easter Road on November 1, Gray hit out against critics like former Rangers striker Kris Boyd who claimed a win for Mark Warburton’s men would effectively seal the title.

Had Rangers won that day, they would have gone 11 points clear at the top. Should Hibs win at Ibrox this afternoon, Alan Stubbs’ men would be three in front.

If that happens, Gray rejects suggestions that the Rangers’ bottle would crash. He admits, however, that the key to success today could lie with starting quickly and turning the nervy Ibrox crowd against their team.

Hibs can go three points clear at the top of the Championship with victory at Ibrox

Hibs can go three points clear at the top of the Championship with victory at Ibrox

‘No, I don’t think you can say their bottle would crash if we beat them and went ahead in the league,’ he said.

‘If it does, that’s great for us, but we can only concentrate on ourselves. We’ re on a run of 15 wins and two draws in our last 17 games and we know we have to maintain that.

‘We know we’re in a good place at the minute, especially with scoring late in our last two games. That shows the sort of character and desire we’ve got. The lads are itching to play at Ibrox. We go on to the game full of confidence.

‘If we can go there and make a good start, the Rangers fans might get a bit nervy. That would definitely benefit us.’

The last time Hibs went to Ibrox, Rangers were flying and won 1-0 through a James Tavernier free-kick. But Gray insists analysis of that game gives no reason to fear a return to Govan.

‘We were gutted after that game but the manager told us we didn’t deserve to lose,’ Gray added.

‘We came away from the game knowing there’s not much of a difference between both teams.

‘It will be a great game, with both sides really going for it.’

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