NO SECRET TO OWLS SUCCESS SAYS GRAY
NEW Sheffield Wednesday manager Stuart Gray has admitted that the Owls’ defensive record under former boss Dave Jones was an embarrassment.
Winless until November, Wednesday sat bottom of the Championship and hadn’t kept a single clean sheet in 17 games when Jones was dismissed following a 2-0 defeat to Blackpool.
But since former Southampton boss Gray took caretaker charge on December 1, the Owls have lost just two of 13 games, climbed out of the bottom three and later this month face Charlton for a place in the FA Cup quarterfinals.
What’s more, they’ve shipped more than one goal only once under Gray – explaining why chairman Milan Mandaric finally gave him a full-time contract this week.
“There’s no secret,” said Gray, whose last managerial post was at Northampton in 2008-09. “All I’ve done is make us a bit harder to beat us.
“The way we were shipping goals was embarrassing. We hadn’t got any clean sheets for 18 or 19 games, so the first task was obviously to stop conceding.
“That meant hard work on the training ground, working with the players closely and making sure I put round pegs in round holes.
“Now we’ve become much more resilient and we’re staying in games longer, which gives us the confidence to go forward and score goals.
“I’ve also been helped by players returning to fitness. Our treatment room has been far too busy and getting some of those lads back is a boost. But I always had confidence in the ability of the players to get us out of it.”
Perhaps the only surprise about Gray’s permanent appointment is that it took Mandaric two months to make it happen. Didn’t he start to worry that he was simply keeping the seat warm for a bigger name?
“No, no,” insists the 53year-old. “At the end of the day, the chairman and me were in dialogue the whole time, so I wasn’t wondering anything.
“I spoke to him every day, he kept me 100 per cent informed of what was going on. He decided he wanted to go down that route of making sure results were consistent so I wasn’t worried or con- cerned or anything like that.
“I’m obviously delighted, very pleased. I was disappointed that Dave lost his job, but he understands, as I do, that we’re in a results business.
“And the buck stops with me now. I’ll be judged on the results of Sheffield Wednesday and if they aren’t good enough, I won’t be here long. I’ve been around long enough to know how it works.
“For me, the main thing is that all the speculation has been put to bed and I can now get down to business and concentrate on getting the team up the league.
“My brief was to get us out of the bottom three. Having done that, I now want to take the club forward. Our objective now is to claw in some of the teams above us and climb the table.
“I’ve got confidence in the job and I’m pleased that the chairman has got confidence in me to do it.”
And Gray will be aided in that objective by the arrival of Arsenal’s 20-year-old striker Benik Afobe, drafted in on Thursday after eight-goal leading scorer Connor Wickham was recalled by parent club Sunderland.
“We’re disappointed to lose Connor but we’ve got a young lad in from Arsenal who I think will really help us,” said Gray
“He wants to run in behind, he wants to stretch teams. He’s got quality movement, a good eye for goal.We’re very grateful that Arsenal have allowed him to join us on loan.
“And we’ve shown what we can do for young players with Connor, so hopefully we can do the same with this boy.”
LOANEE: Benik Afobe
BOSS: Stuart Gray