Sheffield Wednesday head into a Yorkshire derby with Huddersfield Town tomorrow with Stuart Gray hoping he has a cure for the Owls’ goalscoring problems.
Only bottom-of-the table Blackpool have scored less goals in the entire Football League than Wednesday, with the Seasiders netting 11 in 17 games.
Gray’s Owls have scored one more, 12, the same as Yeovil Town and Hartlepool United – the two clubs occupying bottom spots in League One and Two respectively.
Conversely, only Middlesbrough in the Championship have a better defensive record than 13th-placed Wednesday – Boro conceding 12 to the Owls’ 14 – meaning Gray knows if he can solve their shortage of goals, he could kickstart an assault on the play-offs.
Watford midfielder Lewis McGugan – who netted 11 times last season for the Hornets – has arrived on loan, with Gray hopeful of signing a striker today ahead of tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off at Town.
Striker Caolan Lavery – who burst into the Owls’ team last year with four goals in nine Championship starts – could also make his first appearance of the season after a serious knee injury.
And with summer signing Stevie May returning to Hillsborough training “buzzing” after the striker’s full Scotland debut against England on Tuesday night, Gray is optimistic the goals will come and end a miserable 10-game winless streak.
“It was a huge moment for Stevie, fantastic credit to him,” said Gray. “I was watching the TV, hoping he would get on. Being English I was hoping he wouldn’t score, but I would have liked him to score and then Scotland lose 3-2.
“He has come back into training (Thursday) and is buzzing, as is Lewis McGugan. You can already see the quality he has brought to the football club.
“Hopefully, that will spur Stevie on. He has come back full of confidence.
“Stevie will hold his hand up, and say he’s had several opportunities to kill games off. He hasn’t missed deliberately, but the more times we can get him into those goalscoring positions, the more chances we create for him, the more goals he will get.
“We have been struggling to score goals and you only have to look at Lewis’s CV, he is a goalscoring midfield player and creates chances as well. That’s something we have been missing.
“Lewis is a quality player, who creates and scores goals from midfield. We have had one or two lads who have got out of the treatment room, too, so the squad is a little bit healthier.
“I see Lewis as a central midfield player where he hurts people with the ball and can pick out a pass.
“We are putting a lot of pressure on him, bringing him to a football club because we haven’t scored goals, but Lewis will not shirk the responsibility.
“If we can drown him with the ball, we know he can hurt the opposition.”
Gray is chasing a striker to bolster his forwards, but has been frustrated after seeing one deal collapse when the player refused to go out on loan.
He said: “We thought we had a striker over the line. We agreed a fee, as in wages, agreed with the manager, but the thing that let us down is the player doesn’t want to come. He wants to stay and fight for his place.
“It disappoints me. I can’t understand it, if a manager tells you you’re not needed at the football club for 28 days, and go get some football, it just shocks me.
“Maybe that’s where the game has changed, the lads are getting well looked after financially, and some of them don’t want to get out of the comfort zone. We just have to keep chipping away,” said Gray, who denied links with Nottingham Forest striker Dexter Blackstock.
Canadian Lavery, 22, could feature as a substitute tomorrow for the first time this season, after recovering from a knee injury picked up in pre-season.
“We have missed him because he is a threat, runs in behind and chases lost causes,” said Gray. “He puts defenders on the back foot.”
Owls forwards May, Atdhe Nuhiu, Chris Maguire and Gary Taylor-Fletcher – set to face his former club tomorrow – have all struggled for goals this season.
New signing McGugan has a proven goalscoring record, but hopes his arrival can generate more chances for the strikers too.
“I think you just have to try to be positive,” he said. “You don’t shoot, you don’t score. That’s the way I go into games. If people are in better positions, then try to provide some assists too.
“The attacking part of my game is very important, that’s what I have done all my career. I liked to add goals from midfield, and that’s what I am to try and do.
“The most important thing is to try and help the team, but if I can get a few goals – or a few assists - that’s only for the benefit of everyone. The midfielder’s job is to provide chances and, hopefully I can try and provide the strikers with as many opportunities as possible.”
After a 0-0 stalemate with Rotherham United last time out, Gray is relishing the chance tomorrow of another Yorkshire derby in front of the Sky cameras.
“Huddersfield have been strong at home, but our away form has been fantastic,” added Gray, with the Owls beaten just once in eight away games – the best record in the Championship.