Luton’s Jake Gray is hoping to get the chance to stake his claim as a first team regular after the desperately unfortunate injury to Cameron McGeehan recently.
Town’s star attacking midfielder suffered a broken leg in the 1-0 defeat at Portsmouth earlier this month, and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
Obviously it’s not nice, but the manager said that he wants me to try to replace his goals because he’s had a fantastic season.Jake Gray
Gray was naturally full of sympathy for his team-mate’s plight, but when given the nod against Accrington on Saturday, repaid manager Nathan Jones’ faith with a fine strike to bring the scores level.
When asked if he can now take on the mantle left vacant by McGeehan, Gray said: “Yeah, maybe. He’s been in touch with me and I’ve been in touch with him, wishing me well and wishing him well.
“Obviously it’s not nice, but the manager said that he wants me to try to replace his goals because he’s had a fantastic season.
“So I’ve just hopefully got to take my chance when I get it and step up.”
Gray set his stall out early on in the match, drifting past one challenge and firing narrowly wide.
After netting his third goal in Luton colours, he went close to an equaliser with another decent strike and continued: “The manager made an emphasis on it before the game.
“He wants me to get forward as much as I can and be the main one from midfield, breaking through.
“I just tried to signal a bit of intent from the first minute. I dragged the shot a little bit but next time maybe.
“Three is not bad (as a tally). I’d like to have more but from the appearances I’ve had, it’s not a bad return.”
Gray had joined in the summer from Crystal Palace, but has been limited to just four league starts and 16 appearances in total, his last coming against Swindon in the Checkatrade Trophy back on December 6.
Despite his lack of first team football, Gray had never been looking to leave during the transfer window, saying: “The manager has always said that he wanted me here and that I’m going to play a big part, so there was no real intention to go elsewhere.
“He said that he wanted me here and that I wasn’t going anywhere, so I was happy with that and I’ve just got to take my chances when I get them.
“The gaffer has kept talking to me, telling me what to do and he’s still trying to involve me, so it has been all right.
“I’ve just got to keep working hard and take my chance when I get it.
“I’ll play anywhere in the middle. I just want to be out there, scoring and setting goals up. I could be at the top, at the side, it doesn’t bother me as long as I’m playing.”
Jones admitted that Gray will be given his chance to fill the void left by McGeehan, but that he wasn’t ever expecting the 21-year-old to be a direct replacement.
He said: “We’ve reiterated what we expect of him, but he knows that, because that’s why he’s been brought here.
“It’s not like, ‘now you’re the new Cameron McGeehan’.
“No he’s not, he’s different from Cameron, he’s a different player from Cameron.
“Cameron is a different player from anyone else in the league.
“So now we’re looking for different things from different people with the same outcomes.
“He’s an attacking midfield player and we’ve said we need someone to replace Cameron’s goals and he’s got an opportunity to do that.
“He did it at Hartlepool and that’s why we brought him here, that’s why we made the effort to bring him here permanently.
“Cameron did score three or four penalties so it’s just the seven goals in half a season we have to replace and Jake has started well.”
However Jones didn’t think that Gray had been unfortunate to miss out on as much game-time as he has since signing, adding: “I don’t think he’s been unlucky. It’s the strength of the squad, people compete and who we play.
“I see them every day and some people are not unlucky to be out of the side because I want to pick good sides.
“Danny Hylton is not lucky to be in the team. Danny Hylton’s in the side because he’s my best player every day in training and he’s the best player in the league.
“I pick Glen Rea all the time because, in training, he goes through people and defends well, defends properly and that’s what he does.
“I pick sides based on what I know and what I see of them every day and how they perform for me.”