Sheffield Wednesday: Gray sets sights on old club

Stuart Gray
Stuart Gray
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Stuart Gray heads back to Burnley tomorrow with the task of upsetting a club that he admires.

Gray worked at Turf Moor as first-team coach under Brian Laws and became caretaker manager after the ex-Owls boss was axed.

Now the Wednesday caretaker manager talks of a good club, with “great people” behind the scenes as well as the well-documented ability of strikers Danny Ings and Sam Vokes.

Gray was hired by Laws in January, 2010, when Burnley were in the Premier League; he was placed in temporary control in December that year, in the club’s first season back in the Championship.

The first of his 12 wins in charge was a 4-2 home victory against Sheffield United.

But he left after the end of the campaign as the Clarets brought in Eddie Howe from Bournemouth, and that summer he became Portsmouth’s senior coach..

Gray’s main concern now is the threat from the second-placed Burnley team managed by Sean Dyche..

But looking back he says: “They were Premier League when I was there. Obviously they probably had a bigger squad than they have now. Sean is probably asking the same players to go, week in week out.

“They’re a fantastic club, well supported, and with some great people behind the scenes. I’m hopeful of going there and putting one over on them on Saturday.”

Gray compares his spell as caretaker boss at Burnley to his current Hillsborough role:

“It was a bit similar to this...I was caretaker. Unfortunately Brian Laws lost his job. I had a decent run. Then obviously Eddie Howe got the job. Eddie was doing well at Bournemouth; I think he’d turned down a few jobs. Burnley decided to give him the manager’s role.”

But he enjoyed his time in charge at Turf Moor: “Yes, results were good. They were a good bunch of lads, quality lads. It’s a club with very good staff in the background.”

Burnley are the only team in the Championship yet to lose at home: they have won eight and drawn four four.

Gray added: “Sean Dyche has done very well; they’re a solid, strong side, and they’ve been scoring goals. “Sean will probably be asking the same question I was asking: we need to be sharing the goals out among the other lads (Connor Wickham has scored eight in his last 10 games).”

“We’ve got Maghoma, now, starting to score, JJ (Jermaine Johnson), even Atdhe (Nuhiu) has scored, Reda (Johnson) has scored.

“It will be a good game, an open game.”

Dyche notes Gray’s current run: “He’s certainly had some good results.

“How do you define that? Sometimes it’s a change of manager - a change of voice, a change of feel, a change of training regimes.

“I was a player when he was manager of Northampton for a short while. I was just finishing my career and went to Watford as a coach.”

Gray is pleased with the fact that there were four different scorers against Macclesfield - Chris Maguire, Maghoma, JJ and Miguel Llera - when Wickham was not playing, and with the spread of goals against Leeds, when there were five players on the scoresheet: Caolan Lavery 2, Reda Johnson, Maguire, Wickham and Nuhiu.

Wickham is set to return tomorrow after being unavailable for the Macclesfield tie. Lavery, who was ineligible on Tuesday, will probably be on the bench again.

Chris Kirkland will come back in for Damian Martinez after being rested for the Cup.

Joe Mattock, who went on as a half-time sub on Tuesday, will almost certainly keep the left-back spot if Reda Johnson is ruled out by his groin injury.

Ahead of the results of a scan, Johnson told Gray that he felt he had a 50-50 chance of playing.

Giles Coke is back in training, joining Kamil Zayatte and Martin Taylor, but tomorrow’s game comes too early for the trio and they are pencilled in for a game with the development squad on Monday.

Gray, faced again with the inevitable questions about his future, said: “My brief at the moment is to get the team ready for the Burnley game.

“I haven’t had any conversations about the manager’s job with the chairman.”

When asked if he knew why there had been no decision yet, he replied: “I’ve no idea. He probably thinks things are going well. Could anybody have come in an done a better job? He probably thinks it’s buying him a bit of time, or whatever.”

Gray feels that the Owls are now a solid team, harder to beat than previously, and with the knack of scoring goals as well.

“We know the players have it in them to score goals. I can use that as a tool, to say ‘not many teams are going to put six past Leeds and play the way we did.

“We put two past Blackpool, four past Macclesfield. We need to put our home form into the away form.”