Sheffield Wednesday: Gray aims to complete jigsaw

Connor Wickham celebrates his goal at Charlton with Jacques Maghoma, Atdhe Nuhiu and Jose Semedo
Connor Wickham celebrates his goal at Charlton with Jacques Maghoma, Atdhe Nuhiu and Jose Semedo
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Stuart Gray is looking for what he describes as a missing piece of the Wednesday jigsaw.

There have been no complaints about Connor Wickham’s form and finishing - but the caretaker boss feels that the team as a whole could be more ruthless around the penalty area.

Not for the first time he saw situations that the Owls failed to exploit, at Charlton, because of a flawed final ball or the lack of someone to get on the end of a good cross, and they were unable to add to Wickham’s equaliser.

“Jacques Maghoma, Reda Johnson and Liam Palmer were putting crosses in - you just want somebody to gamble and get on the end of it,” said Gray.

“Sometimes we were a bit static; they defended well at times, as well. It’s just that final ball, that final bit of the jigsaw.”

In many respects he feels that the game plan and its execution gave the Owls something to build on as they approach the new year, beginning with the home game against Blackpool tomorrow.

He has been playing 4-5-1 away but in the second half at the Valley sent on Atdhe Nuhiu to partner Wickham in a switch to 4-4-2 - a ploy that was used in the win against Leicester and could be utilised tomorrow.

Gray explained: “We decided to flood midfield against Charlton, with three in there, Kieran Lee, Jose Semedo and Stephen McPhail, who got the ball down and complement each other, and we played the ball out wide.

“But once we’d conceded a stupid goal, I thought we had to be a bit more direct on a poor pitch, when you think rather than midfield players making a mistake, put the opposition defenders under pressure and let them make a mistake.

“Chris Powell thought we were causing them problems, so put on another centre half to screen their back four in front of Connor and Atdhe; that maybe allowed us a bit more space down the sides, with Maguire and Palmer down the right, and Reda Johnson and Maghoma on the left.

“We pushed Charlton back. We just couldn’t get that bit of luck or break in the 18-yard box.

“But credit to the players - their response to going one down to a stupid goal was fantastic.”

Gray, who was pleased with the clean sheet at Blackburn, wants to see an end to avoidable goals. Sunday’s stemmed from no-one picking up Dale Stephens as he ran to receive the ball from a throw-in: “We had five marking two and one of them got in to finish,” said Gray.

Charlton’s claim that Wickham should have been given offside was supported by the TV evidence. But had Wickham not touched the ball, practically on the line, it would gone in from Lee and given the midfielder his first goal for the club.

“I think Kieran is a bit disappointed that Connor has taken the goal, but that’s what strikers do,” said the caretaker manager.

Wickham has also shown another talent - a long throw that put Charlton under pressure.