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Sheffield Wednesday: Rams test will help Gray gauge Owls

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  • by Dom Howson
 

Head coach Stuart Gray reckons Sheffield Wednesday’s showdown with Derby County could be used as a measurement to show how far the Owls have progressed under his tutelage.

Tomorrow’s clash at Hillsborough promises to be one of the matches of the weekend in the Championship, with both sides having triumphed in their opening two fixtures without conceding a goal.

More than 4,000 Rams supporters have snapped up tickets and Wednesday officials expect a 25,000 plus crowd.

Gray, who has confirmed centre-back Dejan Kelhar is likely to miss the rest of the campaign because of an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury, is relishing the challenge of facing promotion hopefuls Derby.

He said: “It will be a difficult game against a side who took six points off us last season. It will be a good barometer to see where we are because Derby are a very good side. They haven’t changed much from last year. If anything, Steve McClaren has added to his squad.

“It’s a fixture we are looking forward to. We’ve got off to a good start. We are full of confidence. We let ourselves down away from home at Derby last season. We had a very good performance at home and then Patrick Bamford scored a worldie.

“They’ve got good footballers and so have we. We want to impose our game on them. We need to be more clinical in front of goal.”

Derby lost to QPR in the Championship Play-Off final in May, having finished third in the standings last year.

“Credit to Derby; I was at the play-off final when they were beaten by QPR,” he said. “They dominated the game and couldn’t get the goal. They have had no hangover.

“They have started well with two wins and clean sheets. They will be one of the favourites to be up there.”

“Our players will be up for it. If anything, we let ourselves down last season when we lost to the teams below us in the league.

“If you let good players get their heads up and allow them to pick out any pass, they can hurt you. Suddenly if you are closing people down and are in their faces you put them under pressure. I encourage the players to play on the front foot.”

Making Hillsborough a difficult place for the opposition to come to is one of Gray’s top priorities.

“We are full of confidence and back on our own patch,” he said. “One thing you want is for the opposition to come here and think, ‘not many teams come away with points from Hillsborough’.

“Psychologically, you’re then already one step ahead before you kick off. I’m pleased with the way we’ve started and now we want to make Hillsborough into a fortress and the fans can help with that.

“But as I’ve said in the past, it’s up to the players to give the fans encouragement to get them shouting, singing and give them something to be proud of.”

 

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