David Gray saw first-hand the intense scrutiny placed on predecessor Nick Montgomery's tactics when he was Hibernian head coach. The two men are aligned in dismissing the idea of a 'philosophy' and preferring a flexible formation.

Montgomery bristled at times when asked about playing his version of 442 in the Scottish Premiership, and went to great lengths to stress that the most important element was how the players fared on the pitch. Midway through his tenure he did change things up, opting for a 4231 starting set-up, but it would also be fair to say that most managers and coaches these days are less rigid about their structures. 

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And so onto a David Gray team. He played a 4231 against Edinburgh City and again against MSV Duisburg but it's also important to remember that the head coach is working with what he has available at this moment in time and as he said yesterday, the team is light on attacking options. That being said, Gray has used 4231 in the past during his interim spells so it would seem safe to assume that even with greater options in the attacking areas, that set-up would be an option.

“I’ve always said there’s no right or wrong way to play. But it changes so much in Scotland," he says thoughtfully, speaking after a light training session at Hibs' Dutch training camp. 

“Going to Celtic Park and Ibrox is a completely different challenge to playing against Celtic and Rangers at home. The challenge always changes. Going up to Ross County is another completely different challenge. You need to be adaptable and flexible - and I talk about that all the time - but it’s also about recognising that everyone can beat everyone in this league."

Gray is also well aware that the in-depth analysis his scouts are carrying out on opponents is being done on Hibs as well, and as a result, it would be prudent to have a plan B, plan C and so on.

“All the work we’re doing on opposition teams, they’re doing on us. So we need to be flexible and adaptable and if it’s not working, we need to find another way to work. We will try to do that all the time, to make sure players are comfortable with that. It’s not about the system, there’s no right or wrong way to play. But there is a right or wrong way to play certain opponents," he states. 

“It’s important the players are comfortable with being in dual positions. Chris Cadden is a prime example of this; he can play anywhere up the right side. At times we’ll be able to flip and change without making a sub; being able to tweak it and having that flexibility in games."

We saw a great example of this when Hibs defeated Motherwell in their final home game of the season and Gray doubled up his left-backs to cope with the visitors' danger-man. 

“That’s where it’s important to know the league and know the opposition, and the strengths and weaknesses of the players," he agrees. 

“I’m in the fortunate position of knowing all the players. I know what they can do. Jordan Obita has played a lot of his career further forward and everybody knows Lewis Stevenson is a very good defender.

“We were winning that game but I felt one goal might change that. I knew Stephen O’Donnell was going to run forwards and Motherwell were throwing everything at the game so to stop that threat of him coming in at the back post, I had Lewis at the back and Jordan further forward and it nullified that almost straight away.

“You’re not going to get it right all the time but it’s on me and the coaching staff to recognise when we need to make a change to help the lads. You want to give them every possible chance and if we can do that, along with the players putting in maximum effort and having that desire not to concede but also be a threat in the opposite box then it should be a good recipe for success," he adds.

It would be easy to look at Gray and consider him inexperienced - which he is, if we're talking purely on a head coach basis. But when you consider the managers under whom he played during his career, the fact he began doing his badges at the age of 26, and his supporting role with Jack Ross, Shaun Maloney, Lee Johnson, and Montgomery, to say nothing of his spells as interim head coach, it's not a bad route into the job on a full-time basis. 

The former Easter Road captain has also encouraged players to look into doing their badges while they are still playing - not so much for future planning, but because it can improve their game.

“It’s not until I got to 26 or 27 and I was doing my coaching badges that I stopped to think about simple things like, why the training pitch or possession box is a certain size. When I was 16 or 17, I never thought about that. Or how hard it is to put cones in a line! As a player you just take it for granted because everybody does it for you," Gray explains. 

“I started to think, ‘Why are we doing this?’ rather than, ‘The manager is telling me to do something so I’d better do it’. I would encourage players, not even at the end of their careers, to start looking at coaching, because I believe it improves you as a player. You start to think about the game a little differently. I benefited from that and at that point it made me think about what I wanted to do after football. Because at that point, it was just about being the best player I could be all the time. So it definitely helped me."

Gray has spoken openly about learning from sporting director Malky Mackay, with whom he will work closely. Spells as manager at Cardiff, Watford, Ross County, and his role with the Scottish FA have given him a wide range of experience which Gray plans to lean on where necessary.

“Having worked with the previous four managers, I can take what I believe are the good bits from people, but I’m also thinking about the coaches I had as a player. What did I like about them, what did they do well, what did I not like?

“I was very lucky that when I was at Manchester United had the best manager in the world [Sir Alex Ferguson] at the time, maybe the greatest ever - he certainly is from my point of view.

“I was very lucky to be involved, not at first-team level as often as I would have liked, but I just wasn’t at that level. But you’re still working away; the standards that were set filtered through the club. And that’s definitely something I’ve taken a lot from. A lot of things I learned there I still use now and I’ll continue to use them."

Gray also recalls the priceless advice he took on board from an Easter Road legend about a particular part of the game.

“I worked with John Blackley [at Plymouth], who taught me something that will stay with me forever, and I still use it now, with heading the ball. It’s a bit of a dying art now, and I understand why because of the health and safety concerns.

"I was told to, 'Throw your eyes at the ball’. It's just a little line that has stuck with me. It might be the reason I’m still at this football club - because I threw my eyes at the ball once in the 92nd minute! But it’s all about picking up little nuggets of information and things you like," he says. 

"Nobody is a proper inventor in football. You’re always tweaking and adapting things and what you think is right and wrong and how you can make it better. You need to learn from the things that haven’t gone well, and try to adapt from there.

"Ultimately, I want to be the best coach I can be and the only way to find out if I'll get there is by having success at the end of it."