The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Chris Dunlavy

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

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