s he conducted his post-match press duties pitch-side less than twenty minutes after seeing his team slide to a third loss in their last five Championship fixtures, Stuart Gray cut a frustrated, angry figure.
The Sheffield Wednesday chief described Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at Ipswich Town as their “worst display of the season”, accusing his players of being “out-fought and out-battled” by the promotion hopefuls.
Kieran Lee put the Owls ahead in the 20th minute, scoring his third goal of the campaign, all of which have come on the road, but Ipswich hit back thanks to strikes by Daryl Murphy, the division’s leading goal-scorer, and defender Luke Chambers to move up to fourth in the standings.
The result heaped more pressure on the shoulders of Gray, who has significantly strengthened his squad since Thai businessman Dejphon Chansiri agreed to buy the club at the end of January.
Gray admitted they struggled to cope at Portman Road without skipper Glenn Loovens and influential midfielder Jose Semedo.
“We missed them,” he told The Star. “Glenn and Jose have got that calming influence, experience and leadership skills.
“That little bit of steel which you need was lacking against Ipswich.”
Centre-back Loovens is set to return to the starting line-up against Brighton and Hove Albion this weekend, having served a two-match suspension, but Semedo remains a big injury worry. The Portuguese ace is still struggling to shrug off a toe infection which has troubled him in recent weeks. Gray said Semedo’s problem flared up again after his appearance as a second-half substitute versus Cardiff City.
“After he played on Saturday, his ankle had blown up,” revealed Gray. “He tried training on Monday but he couldn’t get through that session.
“Once he’s had a bit of treatment and the antibiotics kick in, hopefully he will be available for Saturday.”
It could have been a different story in midweek had Stevie May or Will Keane capitalised on a couple of chances Wednesday created on the counter-attack in the first period.
But Gray made no excuses for their below-par defending and finishing in the final third, claiming too many players had an “off-day”.
“It hurts me that we were second best,” he said. “Individuals have got to win their own personal battles.
“We didn’t earn the right to play. I was delighted to get in at half-time still 1-0 up because we could have easily been losing the game.
“But we had chances to go 2-0 up and silence the crowd. We didn’t stick our chances away and suddenly we were under the cosh and couldn’t get out of our own 18-yard box.
“Ipswich are a good, strong physical side but I’ve said to the players you’ve got to be prepared to get a few stitches and hurt for the team. If it is not happening for you, just get back to basics and work your back into the game.”
Wednesday have picked up 23 of their 39 points away from Hillsborough but Gray has expressed his concern over the team’s last two displays on the road.
“We have been particularly good on our travels but we have dropped our standards away from home,” he said. “Our second half performance against Cardiff warranted a win but we were a million miles off that effort, intensity and closing down against Ipswich.”
Tractor Boys boss Mick McCarthy was relieved they ended their three-match winless run.
“We absolutely deserved the win - it would have been a travesty if we had not got the points,” said McCarthy.