Sheffield Wednesday: Gray targets away cheer

Jordan Rhodes has scored 13 goals this season
Jordan Rhodes has scored 13 goals this season
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Away games against Blackburn and Charlton may appear to present a formidable Christmas task to the struggling Owls.

But Stuart Gray holds dear the memory of how his team won well at Watford only 12 days ago.

The caretaker manager is convinced that Wednesday can rake in points and climb out of the bottom three so long as they rediscover the form seen at Vicarage Road, and in the 1-0 home victory against Leicester at the start of his reign.

There also remains a suspicion that the team often seem more comfortable away than on their home patch.

A bad start against Bournemouth and an understandably unfavourable reaction from the crowd made the Hillsborough atmosphere tense last Saturday.

Grays says: “The crowd have every right to have a go at the players, because they’re as disappointed as we are. That’s when you need your big characters and leaders.

“It might be a bit of a release, playing away. But my demand will be ‘come on, we’re going to Blackburn for the win and Charlton for the win.’

“I know the opposition get a lift from playing at Hillsborough because of the tradition, the stadium and the atmosphere; it gives them all a lift if we give them a 1-0 or 2-0 start.

“That’s when you need your big players; on Saturday we had two big players missing, Connor Wickham and Glenn Loovens.

“Some players lead by their performances, and I think that’s what Glenn and Connor do.

“Glenn is a good talker and organiser; Roger Johnson is as well. But everybody has to contribute”.

Wednesday face a key Blackburn performer in Jordan Rhodes, the £8m striker who scored his 13th goal of the season in last Saturday’s 1-0 win at Yeovil.

Rhodes, son of Owls goalkeeping coach Andy Rhodes, said: “You think of all the fixtures in the Football League and it just happens to be that Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield Wednesday are in the same division and that we’ve managed to get each other on Boxing Day.

“I’m sure the family will be coming over in their numbers.”

Gray admits: “We’ve got keep Jordan Rhodes quiet. He’s got a great habit of scoring and got the winner at Yeovil. He has unbelievable movement and great anticipation in the box.

“We have to press the ball high and cut off the supply to him. They’ve had a good away win. I think they’ll play 4-4-1-1; David Dunn plays behind Rhodes and he can pick a pass; we have to starve him as well.

“We have to impose ourselves on them as well.”

Blackburn see their next two games as an opportunity to step up their challenge for a play-off place: they follow today’s game with another one at home, against 16th placed Birmingham.

Rovers are 11th in the table but only four points off the top six and have won three of their last five matches.

Rhodes said: “We’re just taking it one game at a time. We’ve got Sheffield Wednesday next and hopefully we’ll be good enough on the day.”