Sheffield Wednesday v Ipswich: Gray urging Owls to be more creative in attack

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Having conceded nine goals in the last two games it is perhaps surprising that the area that concerns Sheffield Wednesday manager Stuart Gray most is his side’s inability to find the net.

That is because Wednesday’s sudden defensive generosity owes much to just one game last Wednesday night, when Premier League champions Manchester City put seven past them in the second half of a Capital One Cup tie.

Sheffield Wednesday's Atdhe Nuhiu fires in a shot against Cardiff City on Saturday in a game which saw the Owls go down 2-1 (Picture: Steve Ellis).

Sheffield Wednesday's Atdhe Nuhiu fires in a shot against Cardiff City on Saturday in a game which saw the Owls go down 2-1 (Picture: Steve Ellis).

Otherwise, the Owls have been resolute at the back, the six goals conceded and five clean sheets in nine league games the reason they have started so brightly.

But if they are to improve on their current position of ninth and realise the top-six ambitions that for the first time since a rare season of adventure under Brian Laws are being spoken of with genuine belief, then they need to start scoring goals.

Their return of nine is the lowest in the top half of the Championship and is the statistic that undermines their nascent play-off credentials more than any other.

Stevie May, the big summer signing from St Johnstone, has scored three goals while his strike partner Atdhe Nuhiu has contributed two.

Elsewhere, however, it is a goal here and a goal there, but nothing consistent.

The problem, according to Gray, is as much in the creation as it is in the finishing.

“We’ve got to keep working that ball into those danger areas and we’ve got to keep believing,” said the head coach.

“If the forwards can’t get on the end of it then we’ll be critical of them.

“But the most important thing is we need to be providing the service for them.

“If you don’t clear the first man, whether it’s from a set play or a cross, then you’re not going to create chances.

“I’ve got to keep reminding the players and they need to keep believing, they need to keep making the same runs, and they need to keep getting the crosses in.

“It sounds obvious but that’s how you score goals.

“What I don’t want it to do is become a big issue that makes the players tense up.”

Gray revealed he was close last week to strengthening a front line that boasts just May, Nuhiu, Gary Madine and Chris Maguire only for that door to close when the unnamed player suffered an injury. But he acknowledges that a new striker might not necessarily be the answer.

“It doesn’t matter if you play six forwards if you’re not giving them anything to feed off,” said Gray.

“Even if I bring a striker in he’s got to have chances created for him. Stevie May’s created his own chance against Birmingham and taken it, but we’ve got to provide the service to him.”

To remedy what has been the only frustration surrounding the Owls’ promising start to the season, Gray has asked his attacking players to start taking greater responsibility.

“My philosophy is never come off a pitch with a regret, never pass on a passing or shooting opportunity unless someone is in a better position,” he said.

“This time last year we weren’t dominating possession enough; we just need now to start taking advantage of the possession we are enjoying by creating chances and scoring goals.

“At the moment we’re playing well, it’s just the last piece of the jigsaw that’s missing.

“The final ball has been our problem.”

Ipswich arrive at Hillsborough – where the Owls have scored only twice – as the division’s form team after winning four straight games.

In years gone by, a Wednesday team often embroiled in a relegation battle or treading water in the bottom half would be underdogs for a fixture against a top-six team.

But expectancy levels are rising at Hillsborough, on the terraces and within the squad itself.

Gray added: “I said to the players after the game on Saturday that it just shows how far we have come that we’re disappointed to lose at Cardiff with the quality of the squad they’ve got, the depth of the squad they’ve got and the money they’ve got available.

“This time last season nobody would have given us a chance down there, so we’re setting the bar a little bit higher than we have been doing.

“The players appreciate that as well. What I have got here is good leaders who will come and dig each other out.

“But if we want to get anywhere, we have to make sure we’re not losing those types of games where we’re dominating possession.”

Wednesday have signed free agent midfielder Ryan Meadows, 19, to a development contract following his release from Wigan.

Kieran Lee is available tonight but the game comes too early for Tom Lees and Sam Hutchinson, who could return on Saturday.

Last six games: Sheffield Wednesday LDWWLL, Ipswich LDWWWW.

Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).

Last time: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Ipswich 1; October 5, 2013; Championship.