Stuart Gray’s sacking by Sheffield Wednesday came as something of a surprise given the fact he brought a steadying influence to Hillsborough.
Gray’s stewardship hasn’t been anywhere near a rollercoaster - there have been good days, bad days and a lot of mediocre days so here is a look at the highlights and the low points of his 18 months in charge.
Reasons to be cheerful:
On the road Gray led the Owls to some memorable performances to treat the travelling fans with wins over Middlesbrough, Brighton, Nottingham Forest and Blackburn, which included a superb Claude Dielna late winner, coming to mind. Away from home Wednesday appeared to have a spark that they lacked at Hillsborough. A mention too, for the display against Man City in the FA Cup (not the League Cup one) where Wednesday took the lead and for a long time looked like causing an almight shock against the Premier League champions. And of course there was this one...
With United not in the same division, this one had taken on the temporary mantel of one of the season’s bigger games. A last minute winner from Kieran Lee had the away fans rocking the New York and all this after Steve Evans had been running down the pitch in celebration, thinking the Millers had won it.
Gray didn’t have a lot of money to play with and his transfer activity was a bit hit and miss. However, those who were good, were really good. Keiren Westwood was easily the best goalkeeper in the division last season and for a while Tom Lees was up there as one of the best central defenders. Then Lewis McGugan came on board and provided the kind of magic that they were sorely lacking.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY 6 LEEDS UNITED 0
Owls fans love beating Leeds. What they love even more is hammering them. Gray was still in caretaker charge when then United boss Brian McDermott saw his side plummelled at Hillsborough and it was probably the result which got Gray the job on a permanent basis.
Under Dave Jones, Kieran Lee and Jose Semedo were largely average players, in and out of the team and offering little on a consistent basis. When Gray took over, both players became among the first on the teamsheet with Semedo in particular becoming a hugely important cog in midfield.
Sheffield Wednesday teams in recent years (and a fair bit back too) had a terrible habit of shipping goals. Under Gray they were tight. The central defensive partnership of Glenn Loovens and Lees was crucial to that, as was Westwood of course. The midfield was also tough and hard-working and many teams found Wednesday too difficult to break down. There is an arguement, though, that the work on not conceding, led to a poor goalscoring record.
And here are some less positive elements of Gray’s tenure:
Wednesday’s goals tally last season was shocking. Between the start of October and the end of November they scored two goals at home - both of them came against soon-to-be relegated Wigan. And there weren’t too many before or after that either.
Sticking with the theme, performances at Hillsborough last season were dreadful. On average 20-odd thousand people turned up for home games and were greeted by an exhibition in uber-boring mediocrity. Season ticket holders certainly didn’t get value for money.
There were some good, but there were also some bad. Again, money wasn’t made available to shop in the market Wednesday fans would have liked but there were some very average players pulled out of the bargain bucket - see Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Lewis Baker, Hallam Hope. Straddling both positive and negative was Royston Drenthe who wasn’t fit enough to play at first and by the time he was, he was off.