Exclusive: Owls halt interviews as Gray is handed his chance

Milan Mandaric has suspended interviews to find Sheffield Wednesday’s new manager as he looks to Stuart Gray to stake his claim for the job.

Stuart Gray

The Owls’ chairman wants Dave Jones’s successor in office for the start of the January transfer window, but intends giving caretaker-manager Gray a “proper chance” to impress over the Christmas fixtures.

Gray has already won twice in three games – Jones’s record this season was one win in 16 – to revive Wednesday’s hopes of climbing out of the relegation zone.

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Tomorrow night they welcome Wigan Athletic to Hillsborough for the Owls’ game in hand on their rivals.

A point would see them leapfrog Charlton Athletic and take them out of the bottom three while victory would also place them above South Yorkshire neighbours Doncaster Rovers and level on points with Middlesbrough.

It is the first match in a run of three games which could clinch the manager’s job for Gray – Bournemouth visit Hillsborough on Saturday before a Boxing Day trip to Blackburn Rovers.

“There is no further moves as we have to be stable going forward and give Stuart Gray a proper chance,” Mandaric told the Yorkshire Post.

“If I go to interview people, and report to our supporters, that would not look good. For that reason, we are stopping the process, until we decide if Stuart is going to take the permanent role. That’s where we are.

“Stuart has done well, he’s a very good coach, and we will see how good he is.

“Before we make any kind of decision going forward we need to give him a proper chance.

“I can’t be sitting in two chairs at the same time, I need to be loyal to him.

“I am quite sure our supporters will appreciate that and we get behind him, behind the team, and hopefully get the results that we need. It’s what this team deserves.

“All along we have known what players we have; now we have added discipline and organisation and results are speaking for themselves,” added Mandaric who has seen the Owls beat promotion-chasing Leicester City before a 1-0 win away to Watford on Saturday.

Mandaric said he did not have a definite timeline to appoint Jones’s successor, but wanted to give the new manager time to work on improving the squad in the January transfer window which opens in a fortnight on January 1.

“It’s difficult to give a timeline,” said Mandaric. “We need to look at the next two or three games, and then make a decision on how we go forward.

“During the holiday time we need to work together and see how far we can go, if we have to do it, bring in another manager, or sign Stuart.”

One problem Gray, or any new manager, will inherit is that half of Wednesday’s current first-team are either loans or on short-term contracts which expire next month.

Goalkeeper Damian Martinez, centre-half Roger Johnson and top scorer Connor Wickham – five goals in seven games – are all on loans.

Centre-half Glenn Loovens, and midfield duo Stephen McPhail and Seyi Olofinjana are all on short-term contracts.

Mandaric said chief executive Paul Aldridge was working hard to try to extend those deals.

“Paul is working on that and we are on the top of things,” said Mandaric. “We want to keep these players who we want until the end of the season. If we have to lose some, for whatever reasons, we are going to look at others.

“It would be our desire to keep players like Connor (Wickham), but you never know, it’s not in our hands. It’s the decision of Sunderland.”

Former Southampton manager Gray has galvanised a squad low in confidence and, despite a crippling injury list, picked up six points from nine and engineered Wednesday’s first clean sheet in 19 attempts in the 1-0 win over Watford on Saturday. That defeat led to Hornets manager Gianfranco Zola resigning yesterday.

Gray revealed he missed Mandaric’s dressing-room congratulations at Vicarage Road.

“The chairman came down to the changing room after the game (at Watford), but unfortunately I was doing press interviews,” he said.

“He was just delighted we got the win, and a clean sheet, which had been a bit of an embarrassing situation to not have a clean sheet after 19 games.

“(On the phone) the chairman just said ‘Well done’ and ‘See you on Monday’. He hasn’t arrived here yet so I presume I will be in charge of the team against Wigan,” added Gray yesterday, at his pre-match press conference.

“I am enjoying it at this moment in time.

“But I am not in control of that. It’s a fantastic job, great fan base, there’s a lot of people in work would like the job and a lot of people out of work who would love the job.

“All I want to do is focus on getting us out of the bottom three and pushing up the league. All my effort and commitment is for the Wigan game.”

Wednesday have slashed ticket prices for tomorrow night’s visit of FA Cup holders Wigan to £10 for adults, £5 concessions, and Gray is hoping for a bumper turnout.

He said: “The club have made a marvellous gesture in dropping the prices to get more supporters to come in and cheer the boys on.

“Hopefully that will swell the crowd and we will give them a good performance.”