Sheffield Wednesday: Owls ready to go after summer of delay

Owls boss Stuart Gray
Owls boss Stuart Gray
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Owls boss Stuart Gray is desperate to put a “frustrating summer” behind him, starting at Brighton and Hove Albion tomorrow.

The Wednesday chief can’t wait for the action to commence at the Amex Stadium, having missed out on several transfer targets due to the hold-up in Hafiz Mammadov’s takeover of the Championship club.

Chairman Milan Mandaric has stated the Owls plan to give the fans an update on the Azerbaijani’s proposed buyout today. It was over eight weeks ago the club announced Mammadov had agreed to buy them but the deal has yet to be ratified by the Football League.

Despite matters off the field, Gray is devoting all his energy towards preparing the team for their opening league fixture.

He said: “I’m excited. It’s been a long pre-season. It’s now the nitty-gritty stuff.

“It’s been a frustrating summer. It’s disappointing the takeover has not happened as quickly as we wanted it to. All I can focus is on controlling what happens on the pitch and keeping them organised for Saturday’s game.”

As Gray readily admits, players of the calibre of Matty Fraytt and Simon Cox have gone elsewhere.

“It’s not been easy because we thought we had players through the door and thought we had them signed up,” he said. “But I’ve got a lot of confidence in my players. They have shown a great desire to work hard and play with a lot of enthusiasm and honesty.”

It is not beyond the realms of possibility Wednesday will make a signing before facing Brighton. The club have tabled a bid for St Johnstone striker Stevie May and Gray concedes he is a big admirer of the Scotland Under-21 international.

Gray said: “I’m disappointed it’s been leaked out we are interested in Stevie because I prefer to do business behind closed doors and then have an announcement. I don’t like to get people’s hopes up and suddenly you get disappointed.

“We are not the only football club who are chasing Stevie. He is quality player who has shown he can score goals on a regular basis.”

The Star understands Rotherham United have had an offer accepted for May, who plundered 27 goals for the Saints last term. Gray is confident the forward can adapt to the rigours of English football.

“He’s a quality player,” he said. “If you create chances for him, I know he can score goals.

“He’s a team player and scores goals which would be great for Wednesday.”

Some Wednesday fans are upset the club decided to cash in on Michail Antonio. The 24-year-old forward moved to Nottingham Forest on Wednesday for an undisclosed fee, believed to be around £1.5 million.

Gray, who is still hoping to sign Istres midfielder Florian Tardieu, said: “He [Antonio] wanted to go. I think it was a good deal for all parties. The chairman has been very supportive. We’ve generated the money with Michail and he’s wanting to spend it and we need to strengthen at the front end.”

As part of the Antonio transfer, Gray wanted Simon Cox to join his revolution but the Republic of Ireland international decided to rejoin Reading.

Gray said: “I’m disappointed because we thought we had Simon coming in our direction with the deal plus a healthy transfer fee for Michail but he decided he wanted to go south.

“I’ve worked with Simon before. He’s a goal-scorer. It was the player’s decision and he decided he wanted to go to Reading.”

Every manager craves competition for places and Gray is no different. If the Owls beat Notts County in the Capital One Cup next week, they will have to play seven times in August.

“We will be at full stretch,” he conceded. “They will all have a part to play. It’s a squad game. We are going to pick up suspensions and injuries so I’m going to need that depth.”

Having captured Dejan Kelhar, Gray is happy with the strength in depth they have at centre-back. The Slovenian international will be vying with Tom Lees, Glenn Loovens and Kamil Zayatte for a starting berth. Gray has explained why the 30-year-old has signed only on an initial six-month deal.

“It keeps him hungry and that’s the most important thing,” he said. “The last thing I want at this club is any complacency.

“Dejan realises he’s got a good opportunity here. He knows if he wants to be part of this club he’s got to do well to get a contract extension. It’s up to him to see if he enjoys it.

“He’s got the right mentality, is a winner and has been successful at other clubs. He gives me that competition with four centre-backs.”

Gray is backing his defence to shackle Owls old boy Chris O’Grady tomorrow as he targets a bright start to the campaign.

“We all know what Chris is about,” he said. “He’s got the physical presence up there. At the end of the day, I’m not worried what Brighton do. I’m more concerned at what we do. It’s not a game we fear. They will be disappointed they missed out on promotion last year but I’m confident we can go there and get a good result.”