Stuart Gray points to Sheffield Wednesday’s performances without Connor Wickham and insists that they are not a one-man team.
The Owls have reached the last 16 of the FA Cup despite the striker having been unavailable for the competition and at Millwall they stretched the unbeaten run to nine games with another compelling display, after his recall by Sunderland
Gray is not under-playing the role played by Wickham with his eight goals for the club and the team boss joined Milan Mandaric in hoping that the 20-year-old could return to the club.
But Gray also says: “The players proved that we’re not a one-man team. We attack with 11 and defend with 11.
“Millwall overpowered Ipswich last Saturday; Ian Holloway has got them running and closing down, they’re putting an unbelievable shift in for him - but not as much as those lads are putting in for me. They’re putting their bodies on the line. Not many teams will go to Millwall and match that tempo and intensity. It was a battling display, and it deserved a point, minimum.”
But Gray has also been keen to make new signings before the transfer window closes tomorrow at 11pm.
“We’re talking to people, waiting for decisions from players. We’re certainly going to need players. We’re losing Giles Coke for three games. We’ve got Reda Johnson on the treatment table,” he said.
“A lot of our boys are running on empty at the moment.”
With the squad stretched, young midfield player Jack Stobbs was on the bench at Millwall.
But it is hoped deputy captain Glenn Loovens will be fit for Saturday’s game against Barnsley, as the hamstring problem that kept him off at half-time is
not serious. Joe Mattock has now served his one-match ban.
Wickham’s recall by Sunderland did not leave the Owls without hope that, unusually in a case such as this, he could be coming back in time for the weekend.
Gray said it was a ”bolt from the blue” when the Black Cats summoned
the striker on Monday. Manager Gus Poyer wanted Wickham to be eligible for last night’s match against Stoke, so he would have enough back-up while efforts to make a new signing before tomorrow’s deadline were continuing.
A slight injury issue in the Sunderland squad is also thought to have influenced Poyet’s decision.
But Gray said there was “very much” a chance of the striker returning: “Connor wants to come back. He was hugely disappointed he had to go back.”
The head coach is prepared for late-night activity to seal new signings if this is necessary tomorrow.
“The reason why it happens in the last minute is agents think the grass is greener on the other side, so that’s what they’re waiting for. If it’s last minute, last hour, so be it. If not, the window shuts and the emergency window opens a week later,” he said.
Gray has explained why he fielded three centre-backs at Millwall, with Miguel Llera coming in to accompany Loovens and Oguchi Onyewu.
“I knew they would hit (striker) Steve Morison with diagonal balls; it was just that aerial threat really,” he said.
He disapproved of Coke’s manhandling of Shane Lowry, which led to the double red card, but praised the way Coke calmly took his goal.