Ex-Scotland midfielder John Collins has told us that Hibs will need to produce their “best game of the season” in Sunday’s Scottish League Cup final if they are to see off Celtic, but says the club will build David Gray a statue if they do overcome the odds in his last game as caretaker boss.

Underdogs Hibs head into Sunday’s showpiece event at Hampden Park with just three wins from their last 12 games and with caretaker boss David Gray in charge following Jack Ross’ dismissal last week. Gray is reportedly set to step down after the final, with Shaun Maloney due to take charge.

“I don’t think David could be any more of a Hibs legend after lifting the Scottish Cup as a player after so many years of the fans being starved of it,” Collins told William Hill. “He is a legend. But if he manages to pull off a victory at the weekend – wow, there will definitely be a statue of him outside the Hibs stadium!

“He’s a good lad. He’s new to coaching, having just retired, and has been thrown in at the deep end, but I’m sure he’s enjoying it and I wish him all the very best this weekend. It’s a great opportunity for him, a daunting task at the same time. Celtic are formidable opposition, although a weakened Celtic with their injuries. But I think there’s everything to gain and nothing to lose for David.”

Collins added: “But every Hibs player will need to put in a shift from the first minute to the last. They’ve got to work their socks off and take their chances. Celtic will create more chances than Hibs, that’s probably guaranteed. But with one-off games, if the Hibs keeper has a good game and the Celtic keeper doesn’t, if Hibs take their chances and Celtic don’t… Cup finals can be unpredictable, they’re one-off games. You hope Hibs can raise their game, they’ll need to play their best game of the season.

“I believe they will go into the cup final with no pressure. Nobody expects Hibs to win it, except maybe the die-hard Hibs fans. The pressure is on Celtic, the expectation is on Celtic. As a Hibs player going into the final, they’ve got to go for it, be brave… If you get beat 1-0 or 5-0 it’s the same thing. Be brave, go and try and get that first goal and don’t be too cautious. To win the game, Hibs have got to score first. If Celtic score first, it’s very unlikely Hibs will come back and win the game. Celtic just tend not to lose when they go in front.”

With Maloney reportedly set to take charge of Hibs after Sunday’s final, Collins is surprised the club haven’t brought him in in time for the Celtic game.

“It will be a boost to Hibs but I’d still rather have a manager on the training pitch leading up to the game, in the dugout, in the changing room,” Collins said. “I don’t quite get that. If they’ve chosen the manager I would want him in immediately, I don’t see the reason for him not to be there. It would be different if he was coming from abroad and he didn’t know any of the players or anything about Scottish football. But Shaun’s a Glasgow boy, he’ll be watching Scottish football all the time, he’ll know the players, know the team. I’d want him to be in there immediately.”

Celtic have been struggling with injuries of late, but Collins feels his former side should prove too strong for Hibs, while he has been hugely impressed with their new manager Ange Postecoglou this season.

“Celtic are in good form, have a lot of confidence, but a lot of injuries,” he said. “Ange has got them playing a fabulous brand of football, a joy to watch. We’ve got to compliment the board of directors, Ange’s been an outstanding appointment. Nobody had heard of him. The board get a lot of stick but they deserve a lot of credit here – they’ve discovered a diamond of a coach. I watch Celtic, I listen to his interviews. He has so much self-belief and that’s spreading to his players. He’s asking them to play an entertaining, brave brand of football. He’s asking them to play out (from the back).

“People think it’s easy and naïve, but I think it’s a sign of a very good coach, when you’re giving them belief and telling them, ‘this is how we play’. I’ve got lots of friends that are Celtic supporters and they’re all enjoying what they’re seeing. The next step is to try and win trophies and I believe they will win trophies under this manager and, just as importantly, the fans will enjoy what they see under this manager over the next few years.”

Collins added: “I think Celtic will win on Sunday and score three goals. I’ll go 3-1. If Kyogo (Furuhashi) is on the pitch he’ll score. (David) Turnbull and (Tom) Rogic won’t be far away from the scoresheet as well. That’s the challenge for Hibs, to stop those players in the final third. Hibs will need a top-class performance from all of their players.”

While Collins has his ties to both clubs heading into Sunday’s final, he admits he is and always will be a Celtic supporter.

“I was a Celtic fan growing up but I have a special place in my heart for Hibs,” he said. “I had six fabulous years there and made lots of friends and they gave me my first opportunity as manager, where I had that magical moment winning the League Cup (in 2007). Unforgettable. I’ve only got happy memories at Hibs. I always look out for both teams’ results but I’m a Celtic supporter.”

As manager Collins guided Hibs to Scottish League Cup glory in 2007 for just the third time in their history, with his team thrashing Kilmarnock 5-1 in the final at Hampden Park.

“The memories last a lifetime and I’m one of the privileged Hibs managers to have won a trophy,” Collins said. “There’s winning a trophy and just getting over the line, and there’s winning a trophy and winning in style. That group of players and every supporter can look back on it and think that was a special performance in the biggest game of their lives. Everyone can look back with great pride. Not often that happens, when it all clicks, but it did that day.

“It was just a magical day out – it started off with snow and finished off with sunshine. It was an incredible day. And of course, it finished off with the players on the pitch singing that magical song from The Proclaimers. Every time I hear that song, it takes me back to that moment standing on the pitch. Magical. You don’t have many moments like that in your career and I’m sure every Hibs fan thinks about that moment. It was a magical moment.”

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