Sheffield Wednesday: Owls owe a debt of gratitude to former boss Stuart Gray
A year ago today, chairman Dejphon Chansiri made one of the boldest, most eye-catching decisions of his Sheffield Wednesday reign.
The Thai businessman controversially dispensed with the services of head coach Stuart Gray. His call divided the Owls’ fan-base.
Why? Because Gray worked wonders on a shoe-string of a budget.
Gray, a well respected coach, was initially brought in as part of Dave Jones’ backroom staff in late 2012. He helped shore up their leaky defence as Wednesday pulled clear of the relegation quicksand.
When Gray replaced Jones, initially on a caretaker basis, the Owls looked in real danger of going down, having won just one of their opening 16 Championship fixtures. They sat second-from-bottom.
But Gray was appointed head coach in January 2014 after presiding over a run of just two losses in his first 12 matches, including a remarkable 6-0 Hillsborough victory over Leeds United. He guided the club to safety.
Crucially, Gray steadied the ship, leading the Owls to a 13th-placed finish in the 2014/15 campaign. It was their highest finish in six years.
It still wasn’t enough for Gray to keep his job.
His undoing was their lousy goal-scoring record and poor results at home. Gray’s side managed just 16 goals and five wins in their own backyard.
For Chansiri, sacking Gray was nothing personal...just business.
In a statement, he said: “This is not a decision I have taken lightly but one that I believe is in the best interests of our club ahead of the 2015/16 season.
“The club will be taking a new direction next season and it is my belief that the appointment of a new head coach will help achieve my desire of bringing Premier League football back to Hillsborough.”
Having spent £37.5million on purchasing the club, Chansiri decided to take the club down a different path. Having bought Wednesday, he wanted to bring his own man in.
Axing Gray caused a big stir, but appointing Carlos Carvalhal has proved a masterstroke. In his debut season, the charismatic Portuguese chief masterminded the Owls’ run to the Play-Off final.
While Carvalhal rightly deserves plaudits for turning Wednesday into a force to be reckoned with, Gray’s part in the team’s rise should not be overlooked. The club have still got plenty to be grateful to him for.
He was the man who signed Keiren Westwood and Tom Lees. He was the man who converted Kieran Lee from a full-back into an all action central midfielder. Just days before Gray’s departure last summer, Lee cited him as the main reason why he penned a new contract.
Not all of Gray’s signings came off. Stevie May struggled in front of goal and several loan recruits, including Hallam Hope and Gary Taylor-Fletcher, failed to make an impact.
But it is testament to the work Gray did in challenging circumstances that five of Wednesday’s starting eleven at Wembley last month played under him: Westwood, Lees, Glenn Loovens, Sam Hutchinson and Lee.
Gray was a very popular figure with the players on the training ground and maximised the options at his disposal.
No one should ever forget his contribution in the club’s renaissance.