Sheffield Wednesday: Gray seeks more derby-day joy to repay Owls fans

Stuart Gray
Stuart Gray
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There is little chance of Stuart Gray delivering a Churchillian like speech to his Owls players before they take to the field against Leeds United.

Three points, Yorkshire bragging rights and pride will be up for grabs when the two mid-table sides go head-to-head at Hillsborough tomorrow, kick-off 12:30pm.

Alex Mowatt

Alex Mowatt

But Wednesday head coach Gray insists his squad will need no extra words of encouragement prior to their final home match of a gruelling Championship campaign.

“I don’t need to remind the boys of the importance of the game,” Gray told The Star. “It’s about men and women going to work, and kids going to school on Monday and going there happy knowing that we’ve got a good result.

“The result is the most important thing. If we can get the performance too, then that would be great.”

Wednesdayites will recall fondly what happened when the two sides met in last year’s corresponding fixture. In front of the TV cameras, the Owls recorded their biggest-ever win against Leeds, triumphing 6-0 on January 11, 2014.

It was a truly astonishing result and yet Gray, put in temporary charge of first-team affairs following Dave Jones’ sacking, had to wait another fortnight before being given the job on a permanent basis by former Wednesday chairman Milan Mandaric.

Gray quipped: “I thought I might get the job straight after the game but didn’t! I wasn’t bitter about that as I knew what the brief was from the chairman.

“As a coach, you want the performance and result and we got them both that day. If ever there was a game where the subs came on and made an impact, it was that one. It was just one of those special days.

“But that’s gone now. It’s a different Leeds team and manager.”

Nearly 26,000 tickets have been snapped up for the derby and Gray is ordering his players to give the Owls fans something to shout about. Wednesday have struggled to score goals and win in their own backyard throughout the 2014/15 campaign.

“It would be a perfect way to end the season at Hillsborough to win a Yorkshire derby,” admitted Gray.

“I wish there was more at stake as in either pushing for the play-offs or the top-two positions.

“Bragging rights are up for grabs and want to send the fans home happy.

“It is up to the players to lift the fans by chasing lost causes and putting 50/50 tackles in. The fans will have their part to play because we won’t dominate all the game.

“The rub of the green doesn’t always go your way but, if they can see the effort and commitment, that will get them going.”

Keiren Westwood is poised to return in between the sticks, having shaken off a thigh problem he sustained during the warm-up in last Saturday’s pulsating contest at Bournemouth.

Gray will have to make a minimum of one alteration to his back four, with Kamil Zayatte sidelined for the final two fixtures after fracturing his cheekbone in three places. Claude Dielna joined in full-time training yesterday, meaning he could get the nod at centre-back or Gray may opt to move Lewis Buxton inside and slot Marnick Vermijl in at full-back.

Sam Hutchinson sustained a grade two hamstring tear against the Cherries, but Lewis McGugan (virus) is available for selection. Jose Semedo (foot) is in contention to partner McGugan in the middle of the park while Will Keane is in line to partner Caolan Lavery up front following a spell on the sidelines due to an ankle knock.

What the players and Gray are all looking forward to is performing on a brand new pitch next season. The dodgy playing surface has certainly hindered Wednesday’s ability to pick up maximum points on a consistent basis, particularly in 2015.

Gray said: “I remember Wigan at home when I stood in the technical area and suddenly realised my feet were getting wet because water was coming over my trainers!”

Work will begin on the new pitch immediately after the Leeds tussle.

“You want home advantage,” conceded Gray. “It’s no coincedence that our best results have probably been away from home. I want to get the ball down and play and from out of the back.

“It gave us such a big lift at Bournemouth with the quality of their surface and it will probably be the same at Watford on the final day.

“We will have no excuses next year because we are going to have a brand new pitch which will probably match theirs if not be better.”

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