Sheffield Wednesday: Gray plots tactical solution

Connor Wickham
Connor Wickham

When Stuart Gray talks about an area of Hillsborough being flooded, he is not necessarily talking about the rain.

The Owls manager is reflecting on the way Wigan poured bodies into midfield and dominated the first half on Wednesday.

Gray will be trying to make sure the same sort of thing does not happen again when Bournemouth come to town tomorrow.

Analysing his tactics after the ups and downs of the win at Watford and the game against Wigan that may have been slipping away from the Owls before it was abandoned owing to waterlogging.

Broadly, he must decide whether to adopt the 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 formation that succeeded at Vicarage Road and was used for much of Wednesday’s game in an attempt to stem the Wigan tide, or go 4-4-2 and play with two out-and-out strikers as he did from half time two days ago.

Gray also started with 4-4-2 against Wigan, with Kieran Lee on the right flank and Jacques Maghoma up front with Connor Wickham, but quickly changed it to try to combat the visitors’ midfield advantage.

He explained: “We watched Wigan twice and they played 4-1-4-1. They’d won against Bolton; you wonder if they’re going move away from the formation; they ended up starting with 3-5-2.”

But Gray also insists that basic errors undermined the Owls’ game more than tactics.

“Their formation caused us problems, but our problems were self-inflicted. Our passing and decision-making were poor. When we did have some decent possession we seemed to give it straight back to them. Our clearances were poor.

“Our midfield and two centre halves didn’t really get going. I made a bold decision at half time, put two forwards on (Jermaine Johnson and Atdhe Nuhiu), and we got on the front foot; Uwe Rosler ended up putting a sub on to go back to 4-1-4-1.”

After the first few minutes, the Owls had pulled Lee into a central position, and pushed Maghoma out to the right; it was hoped that his and Jeremy Helan’s pace out wide could support Wickham when the team were going forward, but that there would still be sufficient midfield strength to combat Wigan.

Gray added: “Wigan just flooded the midfield, We were getting over-run, so I decided to go 4-3-3 - with my three, I was trying to stretch their back three, just trying to force their wing backs back.

“At times we did get a foothold on the game though we didn’t control any of the possession, I think if I hadn’t changed it we would have gone in at half time three or four nil down. Uwe has inherited a very good squad, They’ve got Premier League quality, competition for places, and I know he’s got a high wage budget, he was telling me!”

Bournemouth, like Wigan, could play with only one up front.

Gray said: “I worked with Eddie Howe (Cherries manager) and Jason Tindall (assistant manager) at Burnley, They’ll been a high-energy side, a footballing side, they’ll play the ball down.

“I would imagine he’ll come here 4-1-4-1, they’ll be trying to get a result. So again it’s about who gets the first goal.

“Whether they come and have a go at us or sit back and try to hit us on the counter-attack, I’m more concerned with what we do.”

Joe Mattock and Giles Coke are fit and in contention, and Coke was having a fine game in the victory against Leicester before he went off injured.

The caretaker boss is pleased with Damian Martinez’s form: “After Wigan got through our back four and we’d given away possession far too easily, he made some good saves, even in those conditions.

“Credit to him. He’s enjoying it, getting good experience; I’d rather him not be as busy as he was on Wednesday! Even he found the conditions difficult.

“He’s one of the best kickers I’ve seen for a goalkeeper, but he had trouble with his kicking - he couldn’t get the ball off the ground. So in the end we were saying ‘don’t throw it down on the floor, kick it straight out of your hands.

“I have to give credit to Chris Kirkland as well. He’s obviously disappointed he’s not in the team but he’s such a top professional. He’s given Emmi lots of advice.”