Stuart Gray marks his first anniversary in charge of Sheffield Wednesday today and finally he has something to celebrate.
The Owls’ head coach – who succeeded Dave Jones 12 months ago today – has been forced to fend off questions over his future as an 11-game winless run saw the pressure mount and the Owls slide down the table.
Only three league goals at Hillsborough all season, and a solitary win in S6 two months previous against Reading, meant there was little home comfort for Gray.
It had taken the gloss off a good start to the season for the Owls, whom Gray had dragged out of relegation danger last season after taking charge.
So it was apt that the striker on whom Gray spent the majority of his summer transfer kitty, £800,000 signing Stevie May, finally came to his boss’s rescue.
The Scotland international had not scored since that Reading win on September 20, but struck twice against Wigan to earn a deserved victory.
His first goal, coming just a minute after Chris McCann had headed home James McClean’s 26th-minute corner, had the statisticians in the press box reaching for the records.
It turned out to be exactly six hours since the Owls had last scored – in a 1-1 draw at Charlton.
The excitement was all too much for one journalist, who mistakenly turned the minutes into hours in the post-match press conference.
“You must have been getting sick of people going on about 300 hours without a goal?” asked the journalist.
“I don’t think it was that long, 300 hours? I would be out of a job if it was that long,” smiled May.
“It’s good to get that monkey off the back. I wasn’t letting that run affect me and neither were the team. Hopefully, now we can go on a little run.
“We started the season very well, we’ve been through a little rough patch and we need to pick up and perform again.
“That starts with hard work and that was obvious (on Saturday) with us pressing them all over the field and the tempo we played the game at,” said May, who has five goals in Wednesday’s colours.
“I got the two goals, but the main thing as a group of players is the three points. We felt in the past few weeks we’ve deserved more points than what we have gained. As the weeks have gone by things just haven’t gone in, but (against Wigan) the opposite happens.”
Wednesday feel they were robbed of victories in their two games prior to facing Wigan, 0-0 draws against Rotherham United and Huddersfield Town, when they felt they were denied “stonewall” penalties.
Against Town, May also saw a fierce strike hit the crossbar, before pinging against a post and rebounding to safety. So when midfielder Jose Semedo – who has only scored once for Wednesday in over 100 appearances – surprisingly opted to shoot from long distance with the game scoreless, the result was all too predictable.
The ball hit the inside of Scott Carson’s post before the Wigan goalkeeper scrambled to his feet and denied Chris Maguire’s follow-up effort.
“It’s all fine margins, a goal and a win is the difference. It’s been a few weeks it’s happened, at Brentford I hit the post, too,” he said.
“When Seme hit the post, I thought ‘is it going to be the same again?’ But our luck changed and we capitalised on that.”
While the Owls can be accused of being goal-shy – 14 in 19 Championship matches – Gray has instilled a fighting spirit. This came to the fore when McCann’s opener could have seen heads drop.
But the hosts replied instantly. Atdhe Nuhiu – who along with Maguire, May and Roysten Drenthe pestered the Wigan defence whenever they had possession – fed May, who slotted the ball beyond Carson.
Wednesday should have gone into half-time in front, but a lung-bursting run from Jeremy Helan saw the left-back unable to beat former Owls loanee Carson when faced with a one-on-one chance.
McClean was a constant threat for the visitors, who started well in the second half without troubling Kieren Westwood in the Owls’ goal.
But against the run of play, Wednesday found a winner. Helan was impressive down the left before feeding Maguire, and his cross was flicked goalwards by May.
The ball hit one post and ricocheted off the opposite post, before the linesman waved his flag to signal it had crossed the line as the Kop behind Carson’s goal tried to suck in the ball.
It meant Gray could finally enjoy that winning feeling again and reflect on a year of progress.
His Championship record in his 12 months in charge is: played 49 games, won 17, drawn 16, and lost 16.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood, Palmer, Loovens, Lees, Helan, Maguire, Semedo, McGugan, Drenthe (Lavery 89), Nuhiu, May. Unused substitutes: Kirkland, Dielna, McCabe, Corry, Lee, Maghoma.
Wigan Athletic: Carson, Taylor, Ramis (Perch 46), Barnett, Boyce, McCann, Watson, McClean, McManaman, Forshaw (Espinoza 77), Fortune. Unused substitutes: Nicholls, Delort, Riera, Figueroa, Huws.
Referee: C Kavanagh (Lancs).