Top-six clubs competing with Gray for Owls targets

Michail Antonio
Michail Antonio
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Sheffield Wednesday want to sign three new players ahead of tomorrow’s Yorkshire derby with Leeds United.

The Owls, struggling with a squad short of seven first-teamers due to injuries, have been further rocked by the loss of loan defender Roger Johnson and news that last season’s top scorer Michail Antonio has been ruled out long-term with a recurrence of his knee injury.

Caretaker-manager Stuart Gray has therefore been given the green light by chairman Milan Mandaric to enter the loan market.

Three deals have been agreed with clubs from the Premier League and Championship with a striker and centre-half top of Gray’s wish list.

But the manager revealed Wednesday’s league position –they have been embroiled in a relegation scrap all season – may put off potential targets.

“We are trying to get players in,” said Gray.

“Two or three, hopefully. We have had the yeses from clubs, now we are just waiting on yeses from players.

“The other managers are happy for the players to come, it’s just down to the players now.

“Unfortunately, where we are in the league is probably affecting us; other clubs in the top six are probably higher in the pecking order.

“We have a few irons in the fire and hopefully they will come through for Saturday, if not, the following week.

“The players that we have contacted have got several options. We are looking to strengthen everywhere, the pecking order would be up front. I don’t think you can have enough forwards.

“Our treatment room is full, with far too many players in, and we need a bit of competition in all areas.

“But some of the top-six sides in our league are looking at the same players we are looking at, that’s what we are competing with.”

The loss of Antonio is a massive blow for Wednesday, the winger breaking down with a recurrence of the knee injury which has sidelined him since November.

He made a brief appearance against Blackpool as a substitute on New Year’s Day, but this latest setback has ruled him out of Gray’s immediate plans.

“It’s going to be a long while before we get him back,” admitted Gray. “We put a timescale on it last time and he’s probably come back a little bit too quickly. We need to learn from this. We are down to the bare bones.”

Gray’s meeting with Mandaric about his own future planned for Tuesday was cancelled after the Owls’ owner was called overseas on business.

The former Southampton boss will hold talks with Mandaric after tomorrow’s derby, as Wednesday look for a permanent replacement for the axed Dave Jones.

“I thought I was going to sit down with the chairman on Tuesday, but unfortunately he is out of the country on business,” said Gray. “I will sit down with him after Saturday’s game.

“It’s dragging on a bit, but he was called out of the country for other business that he is involved in. I will just get on with it and get the team ready for Saturday’s game against Leeds.”

With defenders Lewis Buxton, Kamil Zayatte, Anthony Gardner and Martin Taylor all out injured – along with midfield quartet Giles Coke, David Prutton, Paul Corry and Antonio – Gray was also left to rue the loss of loan defender Johnson. The centre-half played for West Ham in the League Cup semi-finals against Manchester City on Wednesday after opting to join the Premier League side after his Hillsborough loan expired last week.

Gray said: “It was a big blow to lose Roger, but when you don’t own the player that’s always the worry that they can be called back.

“We were negotiating to get Roger back, but it just shows how things can change. He’s playing against the likes of Bournemouth, then suddenly he’s playing against Manchester City in a semi-final and will be playing in the Premier League this weekend.”

While signing a new striker and centre-half is imperative for the Owls, a deal also has to be thrashed out for veteran midfielder Stephen McPhail.

The 34-year-old’s six-month deal expires next weekend and the Irishman revealed yesterday he had received interest from other Championship clubs.

“We are trying to thrash out a deal,” said Gray. “We want him to stay, and he wants to stay. Obviously there’s always going to be clubs interested in top quality players.”

The Owls have already lost loan signings Matty Fryatt and Johnson and, with a wretched injury list, can hardly afford to lose a player of McPhail’s experience.

“There’s been dialogue between me and the club,” McPhail told the Yorkshire Post. “Hopefully, we can get it sorted; we have until after the Burnley game.

“I have told them I want to stay. I have had a bit of interest from elsewhere, but I want to continue what I am doing here, I am enjoying it. I want to help the club get away from the relegation zone and push up the league.

“I have spoken to clubs and told them my situation here. If I can get a deal done at Wednesday we will get it done, if not I will speak to them and see how it goes from there. I enjoy the lads and the club. I don’t want to jump ship in the middle of the season, it’s not something I have ever done before, and I don’ t want to leave.”