As far back as May, Stuart Gray stated the importance of lowering the average age of his Sheffield Wednesday squad.
The Wednesday boss said: “Last season probably caught up with us with having too many 30-year-olds.”
Well, Gray has certainly succeeded in giving his team a younger looking feel. Gone have senior players such as Oguchi Onyewu, Miguel Llera and Jermaine Johnson. In have come Tom Lees, Stevie May and Sam Hutchinson. He even freshened up his goalkeeping department over the summer by recruiting Republic of Ireland international Keiren Westwood.
The average age of the team who triumphed at Birmingham was under 26. Skipper Glenn Loovens is the only outfield star in his 30s.
Competition for places is healthy. Gray is not far away from having a minimum of two players battling it out for each position.
Speaking to the press corps yesterday, Gray said: “I’ve got healthy competition. I know if Glenn [Loovens] is not pulling his weight, I can turn to Claude [Dielna]. If Tom [Lees] is not doing the business, I can put Kamil Zayatte in there. I’ve got two good right-backs. I’ve got Claude who can go to left-back. I’ve got a nice balance in the team.”
The search goes on for another striker but Gray is gradually adding the strength in depth he craves.
“I can put Chris and Royston down the middle but I need a proper forward to compete with Attey [Atdhe Nuhiu], Stevie May and Gary Madine,” he said. “I’m relying on the clubs that we are dealing with to give us the green light.”
Few people will disagree with Gray when he points out that Wednesday’s substitutes bench is far stronger this season than it was during the 2013/14 season when they flirted with relegation. If Gray does need to mix things up, he can throw on Royston Drenthe, albeit not to tomorrow, Hallam Hope, Jeremy Helan or Madine.
One of the questions I regularly get asked on Twitter by Owls supporters is when are Kieran Lee and Sam Hutchinson going to be fit. The influential midfield duo are running again but have yet to join in with full training. The good thing from Wednesday’s perspective is that they are picking up results in their absence. It again underlines the steady progress they are making under Gray.