Twelve months of genuine progress.
That’s how Stuart Gray reflects on his time in charge of Sheffield Wednesday.
When Gray took over the reins, initially on a caretaker basis, following Dave Jones’ sacking, the Owls sat second-from-bottom and were staring relegation in the face after collecting just 11 points from their opening 16 outings.
It was a year ago today they beat Leicester City 2-1 at Hillsborough in Gray’s first match at the helm. That was the beginning of the team’s revival.
After steering the club away from trouble, Gray was appointed Wednesday’s head coach on a two-and-a-half-year deal in January. He led the team to a 16th-placed Championship finish.
Following a steady start to the 2014/15 campaign, the Owls have struggled, particularly at home, to score goals and pick up points in recent months. Their 11-match winless run resulted in Gray having to fend off questions over his future.
However, Saturday’s hard-fought 2-1 victory over Wigan Athletic has eased the pressure on Gray, giving him plenty of hope for the future. That result means Wednesday are nine places higher and eight points better off than they were at this stage last term ahead of the busy Christmas programme.
Gray, who will take charge his 50th Championship match at Blackburn Rovers this weekend, told The Star: “In any season, there are always highs and lows.
“The most important thing is we are making progress. Our players are improving. It was a disappointing result the other night for the development squad but our younger players and academy are improving.
“Our results were better at the start of this season than last year so there has been progression.”
Buoyed by their fine come-from-behind victory over Wigan, Gray is now urging his players to string back-to-back league victories together as they look to move back into the top half of the table.
“You’ve always got to be setting new goals in this game,” he said. “We started the season very well. Hopefully we can go on a good run following the Wigan win. I know these boys are capable of doing that.”
Gray will be without several first-team players ahead of the trip to promotion-chasing Blackburn through injury and suspension, including Sam Hutchinson, Lewis Buxton and Jose Semedo.
“We have to go to Blackburn and build on what we achieved on Saturday,” he stressed. “The character in this squad and the spirit is second to none and I have every confidence in this group of players.”