Sheffield Wednesday’s players are rallying behind caretaker manager Stuart Gray to be the new Hillsborough chief.
The Yorkshire Post understands chairman Milan Mandaric has chosen his five-man shortlist and interviews are underway.
First-team coach Gray will take the team for tomorrow’s Championship visit of Nottingham Forest and an appointment is believed to be imminent.
Owls left-back Joe Mattock yesterday revealed Gray had the support of the Hillsborough dressing room to succeed Dave Jones – sacked on Sunday after just one win in 17 games – but cast doubts over Neil Warnock’s suitability to take charge of the Owls.
The 65-year-old wants the job on a short-term basis until the end of the season, but Mattock – who has played for both Steel City clubs so appreciates the fierce rivalry in Sheffield – believes Warnock’s strong links with the Blades would cause problems.
Warnock is a boyhood United fan and managed the Bramall Lane club for over seven years.
“From my experience, I am not sure if he would be the right man for the job,” Mattock said. “If he did come in, obviously I would give 100 per cent, but I will leave that to the backroom staff to make the decision.
“I am not so sure. From what I know he’s from the other side of Sheffield. I don’t know how well that would go down with the fans.
“I was at Sheffield United on loan for half a season. But I said before I joined here that maybe I had come to the right side (of the city).
“At this moment in time, I think we just focus on what Stuart has got in line for us and hopefully keep playing well for him.
“The players are comfortable around Stuart, he knows what we want. He’s been with us a while now. He’s always going to have his opinions, obviously before he couldn’t express them, and now he’s been given a chance the last game.
“Maybe he might get a chance in the future and I think the lads would like to see that as well.
“I think he’s also confident in himself. If we can get another win that would help him out massively.
“I think after the last result (a 2-1 home win over erstwhile leaders Leicester), everyone would be happy if things could stay the same. The players definitely wouldn’t be disappointed if Stuart got it. He’s a good coach, he knows what he’s doing.
“He should be up there (in contention) in my opinion.”
Wednesday were denied permission to speak to Rotherham United’s Steve Evans this week, while other names linked with the Owls job include Paul Ince, Ian Holloway, Paolo Di Canio and Stuart Pearce.
Gray boosted his prospects of landing the job full-time by taking charge of Tuesday night’s win over Leicester, only Wednesday’s second victory in 18 games.
The former Barnsley midfielder spoke to Mandaric on Wednesday, but has yet to apply formally for the job, even though he hopes to be shortlisted.
“I am enjoying the moment,” Gray confessed yesterday. “Long may it continue.
“If we get a good result on Saturday I might be sat here next Friday with you interviewing me before the Watford game.
“I had a meeting with the chairman and he has asked me to carry on, take the team for the Forest game. I thought it might have only been the one game against Leicester, but we got a good result and performance, so probably bought the chairman a bit of time to carry on his interviews.
“I’m front-runner at the moment because I am taking the team,” smiled Gray.
“I haven’t actually applied for the job as such; let’s just get the game with Forest out of the way and we will review it then.
“It’s a great job for any manager out of work, and in work, but all my energy is about trying to get back-to-back performances.”
That suggests victory tomorrow would enhance Gray’s chances, although the 53-year-old former Southampton manager accepts he has to compete with some high-profile names like Warnock.
Asked if he was on the shortlist, Gray said: “I would hope so. I don’t know who else is on the list, there’s going to be speculation, which I can’t control.
“I have read that there is a shortlist of five. It just shows the quality of the applications for the job.
“Neil is very experienced, very knowledgeable and has success at other football clubs.
“I think Neil is desperate for the job as well. That doesn’t disappoint me, it’s such a good job, allegedly there were 40-50 applicants. I just have to accept it, just do my job to the best of my ability.”
Supporters group Wednesdayite believe appointing Warnock would split the Hillsborough fans, even if he is the best man for the challenge.
“It’s an issue which naturally divides the fan base,” said Wednesdayite director Peter Shaw.
“Personally I feel he has been an exceptional manager. I think he feels he has got a point to prove after being unfairly treated, in my view, at Sheffield United. The main problem I would have is the lack of tolerance and patience from our fans.”