Stuart Gray has labelled Kieran Lee as Sheffield Wednesday’s “unsung hero”.
The former Manchester United youngster missed the first four months of the season following hip surgery as Wednesday struggled in the Championship, resulting in the departure of manager Dave Jones.
Lee, 25, made his comeback in Gray’s first match in caretaker charge, a 2-1 win over Leicester City – only the Owls’ second triumph of the season – and has played in all three games under the new boss.
While striker Connor Wickham has grabbed the goals, five in seven games, and the defence have tightened up to keep their first clean sheet of the season, Lee has slotted into midfield.
His tireless running, tigerish tackling and closing down of opponents has been a key part of Wednesday’s revival, even if his toiling may sometimes go unnoticed by supporters.
Gray, though, is a big admirer.
“He’s one of those unsung heroes, more appreciated by me probably because you know the job he can do,” said Gray.
“The stats show the ground he covers; he can play wide right, he can tuck in midfield, he’s got football intelligence, he keeps the ball and passes it well.
“Because he doesn’t get in the box and score with a shot or a header maybe the fans question what he does do. But he does very well for the team in the shape we’ve asked him to play in.
“He’d not played for four months, he was out with a hip injury. We’re asking a lot of him to keep going, but, credit to him, he’s a fit lad, and he covers the ground, which is good for us.
“If you play 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 you need your wide boys to protect your full-backs at times, but when your wide boys get forward you need your full-backs to be overlapping as well.
“So we maybe lost that bit of protection for the full-backs. But Kieran’s back playing, he’s enjoying his football, but I’ll put pressure on him because he needs to start scoring the odd goal.”
The Owls will be keeping a keen eye on the weather over the next 24 hours, after freak storms saw Wednesday night’s game against Wigan Athletic abandoned after an hour due to a waterlogged pitch.
A point would have been enough to take Wednesday out of the bottom three, and they have another game at Hillsborough tomorrow against Bournemouth.
While it was a missed opportunity for the Owls to gather points, Gray was also denied the opportunity to impress chairman Milan Mandaric after being given the festive period to stake his claim for the manager’s job on a permanent basis.