What lies beneath? Owls manager Gray and Crewe boss Davis prove league position is only one aspect of great job

By Tom Simmonds.

Recently, I made the case for Walsall’s manager Dean Smith being possibly the most underrated manager in the Football League given his achievements at the Bescot. Continuing the theme of unsung managers of substance doing great work, here are two others who I think aren’t getting the props they deserve…

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Stuart Gray (Sheffield Wednesday)

The word ‘massive’ is a stick those in the red and white half of Sheffield frequently use to beat Wednesday with. It’s a word used to imply that Wednesday fans are entitled and arrogant, clinging to sepia-tinted images of distant glory.

Wednesday are undeniably a big club, so it might seem odd to say that Gray has overachieved by having the Owls sat 12th in the Championship. Reality bit long ago at Hillsborough, though. Since relegation from the Premier League in 2000, this is a club that has sunk as low as finishing 15th in League One as recently as 2010/11, and been repeatedly beset by financial woes.

Gray found Wednesday in disrepair upon his appointment in December 2013. The Offside Rule’s resident Wednesdayite, Laura Jones, said of the situation Gray inherited, “we had only won one game all season and it took us until November to do that. We were also the only team in all divisions to have no clean sheets.”

Gray went back to basics, tightened Wednesday’s defence and led them almost immediately to an eight-game unbeaten run, including a 6-0 win over Leeds and five clean sheets. He has carried on in the same vein this season, and Jones explained: “We are one clean sheet away from a club record and Gray’s savvy signings of Tom Lees, Glenn Loovens and Keiren Westwood has seen us become hard to score against.”

Though Wednesday “lack on the creative side” according to Jones, Gray is clearly making upward progress at Hillsborough. For that to be so unheralded more widely is odd, given Wednesday’s profile. Gray’s low-key manner might contribute to this but his results ensure that he does not need to shout too loudly.

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Steve Davis (Crewe Alexandra)

Superficially, it might seem strange to herald the work of a manager of a team in the League One relegation zone, but seeing Davis’ job in the round is key to appreciating his work. Crewe were 23rd in League Two when he took the job in October 2011. Seven months later, they were promoted through the play-offs. He followed this with a comfortable mid-table finish in 2012/13, and also delivered the JPT in 2013.

These early achievements sparked interest in Davis. He was interviewed for the Wolves job in summer 2013 before Kenny Jackett was appointed. He has not been able to keep Crewe in the ascendant since then. Survival was only secured on the final day of the 13/14 season. The 14/15 season has been another one of struggle, and Crewe are 21st with eight games left.

However, there are signs that Davis is still capable of working the oracle. They have beaten runaway leaders Bristol City this season, and recently held high-flying Swindon 0-0.

A tendency to get beaten heavily is a worry – Crewe have lost by three goals or more nine times this season, as is an over-reliance on loan players. However, Davis surely has still enough credit in the bank at Gresty Road. “It’s hard to see how replacing Davis could improve matters,” agreed Crewe fan Stuart Hood. “Any incoming manager would be obliged to work within the same financial restrictions,” he added, referring to a £400,000 loss made despite £1.3million reaped in player sales in the year to June 2014.

In this straitjacket, Davis is making the most of any movement he can make. Hood salutes his pragmatism: “Lacking quality replacements (for Ashley Westwood and Luke Murphy), Davis has changed the team’s style of play, resulting in dissatisfaction amongst fans.” Survival is often ugly. That Davis appears to recognise this should give Railwaymen hope that he can achieve it again.

Which other managers do you think are doing great jobs to little fanfare?

Follow @tallulahonearth

Read more from Tom Simmonds here!

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