It’s always a huge call for any manager to leave out his most expensive signing. Stevie May, Sheffield Wednesday’s £800,000 striker, is at the stage where he is expected to deliver. His overall record, and his recent call up to the Scotland squad, suggests that he can.
But with the Owls struggling for goals – currently four in 10 league games and none in the last three – Stuart Gray has already interchanged Atdhe Nuhiu and Gary Madine, the men in direct competition for the target man role.
Now Gray has the competition he lacked for the place alongside, held by May since his arrival from St. Johnstone. Loan recruit Gary Taylor-Fletcher is most suited to that same role, the spot alongside a big man.
It was interesting to see that Nuhiu was the man who made way for Taylor-Fletcher’s introduction from the bench - to partner May - in last Saturday’s goalless draw with Norwich at Hillsborough.
Not being there, I couldn’t give an opinion on that change. The shape of games and tactical alterations by the opposition can dictate the pairing of players who might appear too similar in other circumstances.
However, you do sense that May needs competition as much as any other player and that Gray, having loaned Taylor-Fletcher from Leicester, has much to ponder ahead of Saturday’s visit to Charlton and the spotlight on an away game is less harsh when it comes to changes.
Not that the Scottish forward appears in any way to be the type who takes his place for granted. In games I’ve seen his contribution has been prodigious in terms of effort and ground covered.
But there’s no mistaking that, with a number of excellent chances spurned, he has not been as sharp as his CV suggests. Folk question the standard of Scottish football but 67 league goals up there, at well better than a one in two ratio, is impressive. All the more so in that May is still young at 21.
Equally, three goals in 13 league outings for Wednesday is hardly disastrous for a player finding his feet. And it’s human nature for a manager to keep backing an expensive capture, maybe longer than other players.
The game is under such a microscope than unnecessarily dark inferences can be taken from a costly player being “axed.” I’d suggest it would be wildly premature to see a May demotion to the bench – should it happen – in those terms.
He is on a predictable learning curve in English football and losing his place occasionally could be seen as part of that. However, it doesn’t diminish the importance of an increased strike rate from May as the season progresses.
Owner Milan Mandaric has bemoaned a lack of impact from some earlier cash signings and once admitted on these pages that it had made him think twice about investing in that manner. Mandaric will seek signs of a return just as Gray will want to refuel his chairman’s appetite for other signings.
Oh, and by the way, what a capture Gray made in keeper Keiren Westwood. Certainly, the Owls head coach deserves support in his first sticky spell in charge.