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Michael Gray | 08:30 UK time, Friday, 19 March 2010

Hi there, in the last two weeks we've played three of the teams trying to get into the Premier League - Leicester, West Brom and Swansea - and we should have taken something from them all.

We beat Leicester at home and drew with Swansea but conceded a late goal at West Brom, which won the match for the Baggies. I could see the disappointment on all of our players faces when they came off the pitch.

That showed the commitment our players have and how far we've come recently, because West Brom are second on merit.

Our players have really reacted to the bad defeat we had at Reading recently and we now look much more resilient. We've had two clean sheets and look more like a team that's determined to get out of the mess we find ourselves in.

It's never a nice feeling losing the game in the manner we did at Reading but maybe it was the kick up the backside that we needed. We got off to such a great start under Alan Irvine but we knew it was still a big ask to get away from the bottom of the table. We hit the ground running but then we had a blip and lost three games in a row. I don't know if it was because the players became comfortable, which is not the right thing to do, but the Reading result really hit us hard.

The manager had a good talk to us after that game but as players we said to ourselves that just can't happen again because nobody should lose games 5-0 and we never want to have that horrible feeling again. If you are going to lose a game it should never be by that kind of margin. We needed to kick on and put what went wrong at Reading right.

We have gone some way to doing that but there are still nine games left and we have to battle for as many points as we can between now and the end of the season.
After that run of three games against teams in the top six, we went to Preston on Tuesday and came back from 2-0 down to get a 2-2 draw. It was incredible.

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I was sat on the bench and you see things a bit differently, but Preston hadn't looked like scoring until they went 1-0 up and I always felt we had a chance to get back in the game.
If we had gone 2-0 down four months ago then it is probably fair to say it would have been game over.

That's all changed now; there's a mentality around the place that we go to the 95th minute, we keep fighting. We came back into the game with a goal from Tommy Miller where the goalkeeper spilled it but maybe we were due some luck.

I was really pleased for Tommy because he has been doing really well in recent weeks. His work rate sometimes goes under the radar but he has done a terrific job. He has spent a lot of this season injured. He's an experienced player now and you can see that helps the team. He deserves a good run after his stop-start spell with injuries, he's great to have around the dressing room too so I am really pleased for him.

Marcus Tudgay scored our second goal within three minutes of Tommy's strike. Marcus has been our top scorer in the last couple of seasons and while he has been playing well recently things haven't quite fallen for him in front of goal. To see him finish with a cool chip over the keeper was great too - he showed great composure because we were behind in the game as he went through one-on-one with Andy Lonergan. Both teams had chances after that but I think a draw was a fair result overall.

Coming from 2-0 down to get a result like that shows that we have got character and the steel has been instilled back into the players. It was great to see, a fantastic comeback but I am hoping we're not trying to come back in games between now and the end of the season but holding on to leads.

It was our gaffer's return to Preston, after he was sacked by them just after Christmas but there was nothing different in the way he approached the game. Having admired Alan Irvine from afar when he was assistant manager at Everton and then manager at Preston, I have been even more impressed with him since he walked through the door here at Sheffield Wednesday.

In the week leading into the game at Deepdale there was no talk of him going back to Preston. It was all about focusing on getting a result. He is very clever at keeping anything peripheral to the game away from the players to make sure our players are fully prepared. After the game it was then straight on to focusing on our next game, at home to Derby County on Saturday.

I can't say it was the same for me when I went back to Sunderland as a Blackburn player - that was very strange. Blackburn were flying high in the Premier League at the time and were set to play Sunderland at Ewood Park over the festive period but the game got cancelled.

I had been getting worked up for the game all week and then it got frozen off so I was a bit disappointed. It was a matter of getting the game out of the way for me because I didn't enjoy that week leading up to the game. But your professional head takes over when the game does come around because you have a job to do. You have to get out there and play for your team.

I was fortunate enough to play against Sunderland twice and Blackburn won both games 1-0. The first one was at Ewood Park and the second was at the Stadium of Light. Going back to Sunderland was a great occasion because I've got a hell of a lot of friends there and I hadn't been back much after leaving so it was nice to go back and thank some of the people who had been so good to me over the years.

It was a weird feeling going back and strange to walk into the away dressing room because everything is totally different. Everyone was shaking my hand and wishing me all the best but it was a game I couldn't wait to be over if I am being honest.

I was a Sunderland fan and had been at the club for so many years but you don't always get the chance to thank people at the club or the fans because you can't go around every individual and thank them. I would like to place on record now my thanks to everyone associated with Sunderland for everything they did for me because that club is a massive part of my life and they gave me my chance in professional football, for which I will always be grateful.

Leading up to that game at the Stadium of Light, the fact that I was playing against my hometown team and my former club did go over in my mind quite a lot. Once the game was out of the way it was more of a relief; Blackburn had won another game and we were moving on to think about our next opponents. At the time we were playing in Europe and the games were coming thick and fast so I didn't have too much time to dwell on the game afterwards.

I started watching Sunderland with my brother when I was about seven. My Nanna lived just around the corner from Roker Park so we would travel down to her house on a Saturday and go to the game from there. The first time I went was in the old Fulwell End and they used to open the gates 15 minutes before the end of the match so I got in on a freebie - how things change!

Later, I started going with my own friends as a teenager and loved soaking up the atmosphere. It was an amazing feeling and one of the first places I went without my parents. It was like going to the city centre without your parents for the first time - you just got that release. I loved it and I think that's how so many kids get sucked into watching this amazing game of football.

Comments

  • 1. At 09:01am on 19 Mar 2010, abilixious wrote:

    Great blog. Enjoy your perspectives from player's view about football.
    Do you think you will go back to work for sunderland football club in any capacity when you retire from playing?
    Keep it up!

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  • 2. At 09:49am on 19 Mar 2010, Rebecca aka Becky aka Beks wrote:

    Gray

    Hi.

    Good blog

    Thanks

    (maybe you can do a blog on food...pre match meals etc. Alot of people on the BBC like food)

    Thanks

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  • 3. At 09:50am on 19 Mar 2010, simon birley wrote:

    Hi Michael, another good blog! As you say, great to see the team come back against being 2 goals down at Preston, apparently we hadn't done that since December 2006 - so I think it shows that the team has the mental strength to pull away from the relegation zone!
    Also pleased for Tommy Miller, he's starting to look a good player in a Wednesday shirt.
    I know JJ is probably out for this weekend's game, so I personally hope you start on the left against Derby, with Esajas off the bench as I think he has better impact as a sub against tired players. Hopefully looking forward to seeing that "beardlesy-esque" shimmy as you jink down the line!!

    Good look! Up the Owls!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • 4. At 09:56am on 19 Mar 2010, Trym wrote:

    As always, great sentiments and well written post. Glad to see the squad has responded to Reading and you've done brilliantly these past matches against the promotion-chasing bunch of the Championship, it's clear there's massive effort put in from the players and that's key for the remainder of this season. Hard work and you'll grind wins out of several of the remaining matches!
    Come on you Owls!

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  • 5. At 10:20am on 19 Mar 2010, Guitarmannorth wrote:

    You know you are always welcome back at Sunderland, Michael. I used to watch you storming down the left wing with Allan Johnston. Happy times at the Stadium of Light! You always gave 100 per cent.
    Good luck for the rest of the season from all Sunderland fans.

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  • 6. At 10:25am on 19 Mar 2010, davey_lad wrote:

    Another good read Mickey. I have to say that i get a lump in my throat when i reminisce about safc. You were a key part in one of our most succesful periods (relatively speaking) in recent history... certainly in my time as a Sunderland fan. I long for some of those days again... and we didn't even win anything ! (div 1 championship not included)

    As for Roker Park, I too used to get a freebie when the gates opened before the end. We used to go into every stand before the final whistle... happy days.

    All the best

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  • 7. At 10:58am on 19 Mar 2010, Alex wrote:

    You always seem to talk about big matches no matter the subject and it's always interesting different points every time! However, as an Owls fan there aren't many games bigger than a game against the Blades (I can't call em what I want to!). What's the biggest game you have ever played in and how does the Steel City Derby compare to that and other derby's you've played in? Would you say that the games against Sunderland when you were at Blackburn were the biggest games for you personally?

    I was also wondering that with us being one of the biggest sleeping giants in English football how long the players think it will be until we're back in the Premier League?

    Also, what do the players know about the investment from America and how do you think it will help?

    Congratulations on the comeback it's been too long since we did that. to you and all the lads, keep up the good work!

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  • 8. At 11:38am on 19 Mar 2010, TimboTimbo wrote:

    Great blog, I always love reading it and at home games when all the fans start singing that "I'm forever blowing bubbles" it just gives me goose bumps!

    It's a shame the current squad we've got, too many old players and not enough quality, but still.. at least we've got heart.

    Good luck Mike.

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  • 9. At 12:18pm on 19 Mar 2010, Elliot wrote:

    Hi Michael,
    Another good blog, are you doing these until the end of this season, or will they continue after?
    I have to say Mr Irvine has certainly changed Shef Weds fortunes. A result against Leicester would not be something I would have expected to be honest, so well done.
    Have you been on the bench much this season ? I had a stint living in Hartlepool so the "Mackems" were not very popular, but whenever I ventured out there you would see Sunderland shirts all over!
    What are your plans for next season? My team Luton could do with you ? :) Howeve, due to this blog I do find myself looking out for your results. Good Luck for the rest of the season.

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  • 10. At 12:33pm on 19 Mar 2010, Adam Jessop wrote:

    Having been an avid subscriber to this blog since the Season started (My thursday work lunches have never been better!) I have enjoyed all your posts and insights into the different aspects of your career so far.

    As an owls fan its also nice to get an insight into the club I have supported all my life and can associate with your final comments and going to the games when your younger and being part of the atmosphere.

    #7 - Michael did a great pre derby blog at the match against the blades at the lane - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/michaelgray/2009/09/getting_ready_for_the_steel_ci.html

    Also Michael, its been a while since you commented on Potters facial hair!

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  • 11. At 12:41pm on 19 Mar 2010, davidjc34 wrote:

    Nice to see Tommy Miller is still flying under the radar. When he played for Sunderland you never noticed him during a match, but he always got a 7 in the sunday papers. Good workrate was the only thing the reporters could think to say about him too!!!

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  • 12. At 1:23pm on 19 Mar 2010, Mikey wrote:

    Do you not think with the amount of managerial changes that have happened this year.. and the weird ones in the championship with Warnock and co playing swapsies it is an example of how daft chairmen can get with sackings..

    Heard an idea of having managerial windows like the transfer and this might put a stop to the crazy sackings.. i,e you sack them out the window and you have to make do with caretaker coaches etc.. Just look at Hull who have binned Brown and replaced him with a manager who cant keep a job anywhere coz his record is so bad..

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  • 13. At 1:33pm on 19 Mar 2010, MichaelNB wrote:

    Great blog Mickey!

    You're definately right about Tommy Miller, it's like having a new signing, I was at the Leicester game and he was excellent on the left.

    It'll be points like those picked up against Leicester, Swansea and Preston which make the difference at the end of the season. If I'm honest I didn't expect too much from those games, so great results.

    Need to mention though Potter and O'Connor in the middle, they've worked their socks off in recent weeks and I think a major reason we've got those results - what do you think?

    Looking forward to your next post. Up the Owls!

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  • 14. At 1:37pm on 19 Mar 2010, SB PRESTON wrote:

    Very good to see Alan Irvine get a good reception at Deepdale. We had Alan and Billy Davies back within 3 days and the difference in reception could not have been more marked.

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  • 15. At 2:04pm on 19 Mar 2010, CollingwoodFTM wrote:

    Good blog Mickey Lad.

    You gave us many great memories whilst you were at Sunderland, and many not so great hair cuts.

    Cheers & good luck for the rest of the season. ;-)

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  • 16. At 2:20pm on 19 Mar 2010, malaymac wrote:


    Another good article Mickey. When you think back to your old clubs, I know there are a helluva lot of Sunderland supporters who still hold you in high esteem and will always be thankful for the good times you gave at SAFC.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong, but does the nightmare of the 4-4 play off final at Wembley and the lottery of the penalties give you nightmares and rank as your lowest point ?

    And what will be your happiest memory of life in a Sunderland shirt ?

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  • 17. At 3:43pm on 19 Mar 2010, Millers_eagle wrote:

    I live in Sheffield and as a Palace fan all my friends seem to see Palace as a derby, whether they're a Blade, Owl, Barnsley or Donny. It's always good humour. Ideally I wouldn't like to see Wednesday go down but come the last game of the season if it's us or your boys then so be it.

    Always a good read, but don't expect any cheers come the final day of the season ;-)

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  • 18. At 3:49pm on 19 Mar 2010, wq0pco wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 19. At 5:04pm on 19 Mar 2010, Aveyard01 wrote:

    Michael, the one thing I want to know is, as a premiership/international level player, how tempting is it to stray off track as it were. There are frequently stories of players bad behaviour, Marlon King, John Terry etc to name a few.

    Are there shady characheters who linger on the peripheral, or is the player just that way inclined?

    I can imagine, say a theo walcot or Freddy Adu, who was a high profile player at a young age losing touch with reality. Is this a problem in football?

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  • 20. At 8:45pm on 19 Mar 2010, mackeminthemiddle wrote:

    would love to see you back home where you belong one day, michael! great blog.

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  • 21. At 01:51am on 20 Mar 2010, spoon1987 wrote:

    good blog. how do you rate wednesdays chances of survival? you mentioned your bad result against reading, im a big reading fan, do you think reading still have a chance of the play offs after their recent revival and fa cup run?

    also check out my blog:

    http://footballthetruth.blogspot.com/



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  • 22. At 10:50am on 20 Mar 2010, Booker wrote:

    "I was a Sunderland fan" - come on Michael, you still are - you can feel your love for the club between the lines of your blog. Which is the first result you look for each weekend? Having been baptised into football at the Roker Park Fulwell End, you will never get that out of your system whether you like it or. There's been many a time over the last 45 years that I'd wished I wasn't a Mackem, but the fact is I always got that child-like thrill when I went to Roker, and still do at the SoL.

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  • 23. At 12:57pm on 20 Mar 2010, Heysham White wrote:

    "I was sat on the bench and you see things a bit differently, but Preston hadn't looked like scoring until they went 1-0 up"


    You mean apart from when we hit the bar and produce 2 or 3 good saves from your keeper in the 28 minutes before we scored...?

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  • 24. At 10:34pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 1

    Hello there,

    I would like to go back to sunderland a soak up the atmosphere a few times before i consider working for them.
    Just to go back there and enjoy the football with no pressure on you will be quite strange.
    Who knows what the future holds.

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  • 25. At 10:36pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 2

    Thanx for the idea.

    Who did you have in mind when you mention the food?

    Although i have done a couple of blogs where i speak about my preparation before games.

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  • 26. At 10:45pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 7

    Ive been very fortunate to play in some great games over my carreer so it would be hard to mention my favourite.
    You mention the steel city derby and i have to say, What an atmosphere.
    I was a bit taken back as to how passionate it was.

    Lets hope its not to long before wednsday are fighting it out in the premiership.
    One step at a time though.

    We are always hearing things about a takeover. Maybe its a matter of time but the chairman has done a great job and deserves alot of credit.

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  • 27. At 10:48pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 9

    Been on the bench for the last few games but have probably played more games than i thought i would this season.
    I still get that buzz of exitement when i pull that shirt on and hope it continues.

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  • 28. At 10:50pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 10

    Thanx for your comments and the tash will get a mention again.

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  • 29. At 10:53pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 13

    Darren and James have probably been our most consistant players throughout the season so its nice that people are starting to recognise that.
    Eight games to go and lets try and win as many as we can.

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  • 30. At 10:55pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 15

    HaHa thanks for reminding me.

    All the old stickers from the pannini books were been passed around the dressing room the other day, I have to say I did cringe a few times.

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  • 31. At 10:58pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 16

    I must admit it took me a long time to get over the penalty miss. It has to go down as my low point.
    As for favourite memory, I would probably say my debut but there are plenty others i could choose.

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  • 32. At 11:03pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 19

    I think it comes down to the individual really.

    Im not going to say ive been squeeky clean all of my carreer but there is so much media coverage these days that you have to be the complete proffessional.
    Commited to your job 100%.
    We are all human and people make mistakes. I say remember them as great footballers.

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  • 33. At 11:07pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 21

    Yes we have a great chance of staying up.
    Our squad looks strong and the hunger is back in our game, the confidence is high at the moment from recent perforances so lets keep marching on.
    Maybe the playoffs are out of reach for you but you have done great under your new management.

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  • 34. At 11:09pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 22

    Its a mistake in my blog so thanks for pointing it out.

    Ofcourse im still a sunderland fan, Always was and always will be.

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  • 35. At 11:12pm on 22 Mar 2010, Michael Gray wrote:

    reply to no 23

    You remember the good bits but i bet you couldnt wait for the game to finish?

    There was only one team going to win near the end of the game and it wasnt preston.

    Very entertaining game though and you were the better team in the first half.

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  • 36. At 11:15pm on 23 Mar 2010, Wayne wrote:

    Thanks for another great blog Michael.

    May have been asked before but how many more seasons do you feel you have left in you and what would you like to do after retiring(Coach, Scout, Pundit)?

    BTW: No offense intended!

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  • 37. At 5:28pm on 24 Mar 2010, devley1888 wrote:

    Good blog, hope you enjoyed your time at celtic park!!
    However would like you to come down from sitting on the fence all the time...

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  • 38. At 09:15am on 25 Mar 2010, devley1888 wrote:

    Good blog mate...shocking result for the hoops last night!!
    However, would love to see you come off the fence sometimes and give some proper opinions on players & coaches etc...

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  • 39. At 00:31am on 26 Mar 2010, Neil wrote:

    Hi Michael,a good honest blog.I posted a few weeks ago saying I hope when we go away,we play with pride,we certainly did at Preston.A question I would like to ask you for your opinion or insight is when the opposing team have a corner we bring every man back into the area,leaving nobody upfield.This means there's 21(sometimes 22) players in a crowded box.If we left 2 or 3 players upfield surely the opposing team has to keep players back to mark them against a breakaway,meaning less players in the box,more room and also gives the goalkeeper a better chance of collecting the ball.A typical example was the last few minutes of that Preston match when they had about 4 or 5 corners in the last few minutes and the box was crowded.Even Alan was concerned we would let a goal in and come away with nothing,Is there an explanation why teams today defend corners in this way Michael?,when in the past there was always 2 or 3 defenders back.Regards Neil

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