Sheffield Wednesday are due to end eight weeks of speculation today by handing Stuart Gray their manager’s job on a permanent basis.
Thirteen days after the caretaker-boss was left “disappointed” at not being given the job full-time – following the 6-0 thrashing of Leeds United – Gray met chairman Milan Mandaric yesterday afternoon to thrash out a deal.
Gray was not favourite to replace Dave Jones, axed on December 1 after picking up just one win in 17 matches, but he has taken the Owls from six points adrift of safety to two points clear of the Championship relegation zone.
In his 11 games in charge, Gray has lost just twice and the Owls head into tomorrow’s FA Cup fourth-round trip to Rochdale on a seven-match unbeaten run.
This impressive form has finally convinced Mandaric – who had initially wanted former Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock to take charge – to give Gray a chance. The pair met yesterday to work out Gray’s new contract, including whether the deal will be to the summer or beyond.
“We are very close, hopefully something will be released before the Rochdale game,” Gray told the Yorkshire Post.
“As you know, things in football don’t run as quickly or as smoothly as you want. Fingers crossed there will be an announcement.
“We are seven games unbeaten, playing with a lot of confidence, going into a difficult (FA Cup) tie at Rochdale, but like everybody we just want it put to bed.
“I was disappointed when Dave (Jones) lost his job, but I was asked to take the reins. Things have gone well, but the players deserve all the credit, they are the ones who end up getting you the job.
“Once it’s finally announced, we can put it away, and concentrate on moving up the table, getting as many points as possible, and strengthening the team.
“I have had 11 games as caretaker, and the reason why I have had 11 games is down to the players, and the performances they have produced.”
Mandaric has taken his time in appointing Jones’s replacement, with Wednesday’s Championship future key if he is to attract a buyer for the Owls.
Gray said he was “disappointed” at not clinching the job on a permanent basis after the January 11 triumph over Leeds.
Since then, the Owls have beaten Macclesfield Town 4-1 in an FA Cup replay and held high-flying Burnley to a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor.
“I look back to the Leeds performance,” said Gray. “The result and the performance was fantastic, so when that didn’t get me the job full-time you start to think ‘hang on a minute, what do you need to do?’.
“But at the end of the day, that’s the chairman’s prerogative, he’s entitled to do what he wants to do. He has asked me to get the team prepared and organised.
“It’s taken 11 games; hopefully I won’t have to wait until after the 12th game before it’s announced. If I do, I will just have to accept it and get on with it.
“It’s a fantastic football club, you just need to look at what managers have been here in the past.
“I think the chairman has had three managers here – hopefully I will be the fourth and in place for a long while.
“He cares about the football club, he shows his face up here to see the players.
“I don’t know (at) how many football clubs that happens. He’s very welcome.”
This is Gray’s fifth job as caretaker manager; the only previous club at which he was given the job permanently was Southampton.
“Beating Arsenal and Manchester United at The Dell, in the last two games ever at The Dell, helped my cause to get the job,” he recalled.
“The other times I have been the caretaker, I have held the fort, had decent success, but either the owners or chairman have decided to go down another route employing staff.
“You know what happens with that, the baggage that comes with it. More often than not I have ended up losing my job.
“I have been doing the job now for 11 games, so the title is not important.
“It just takes all the speculation away,” said Gray, who confirmed his No 2 Lee Bullen – having stepped up from coaching the Owls youngsters – would remain in the coaching set-up.”
Gray hopes clarity over his future, plus Wednesday’s healthier league position, can help end his hunt for a striker.
Wednesday were pipped by Doncaster Rovers in the race to sign Southampton’s Billy Sharp on loan – one of three forward targets the Owls have lost out on to rivals this month – but Gray remains optimistic about bringing in two frontmen, even if he is forced to wait until after the January transfer window closes.
“I don’t think I have money to spend so we will be bringing loan signings in,” he said.
“When the January transfer window shuts, seven days later it re-opens for the emergency loans.
“We have lost out on players, they have gone to other clubs, geographical reasons mainly, which is disappointing.
“There was a list of three strikers and unfortunately we have missed out because they have gone elsewhere. The disappointing thing is we hoped to get one in before this weekend, but that’s not happened.
“Fingers crossed, once my role has been sorted, there’s a bit of clarity, maybe that might help.
“The pleasing thing is Sheffield Wednesday is a more attractive proposition because of where we are in the league, but we have achieved nothing yet.
“Any Championship team is looking to strengthen in the forward area. If a player like Billy becomes available, you would be interested.
“He’s proven, got the experience, but, for whatever reason, he has decided to go to Doncaster. He is one that we were in for.”