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Football: Saints chief was so Lowe - axed Gray.

Byline: GRAHAM HILL

VILLA No.2 Stuart Gray believes both he AND Dave Jones were the victims of an unsaintly act at the hands of Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe. And Gray says that if the Saints chief had not been so quick to sack both of them in rapid succession, then the pair might still have been running the team when Southampton come to Villa Park tomorrow night.

Gray is professional enough to realise that he and Wolves boss Jones were a victim of the dog-eatdog world of Premiership football.

And the Villa assistant will have no problems shaking hands with the man who ended his managerial dream before it had really started, if their paths cross.

Jones walked into the Wolves job once his well-publicised court case, in which he faced child abuse charges, had ended. But by that time, Jones had been released by Southampton to be replaced by Gray towards the end of the 2000-2001 season.

And Gray, who was sacked seven months later, considers himself fortunate that Villa, when John Gregory was manager, offered him work almost immediately.

But part of him still feels bitter that Lowe was far too impatient with both men, albeit for different reasons.

Gray, who skippered Villa and played for Southampton before embarking on a 10-year coaching career at The Dell, still cannot understand why he was shown the door after such a short period in charge.

'I was there with Dave Jones and it was disappointing the way he was treated, as was the way I was,' explained Gray.

'The best thing ever to come out of that was that Dave was proved innocent after facing those charges. 'Had the chairman stuck it out a little bit longer, then he'd probably still be the manager there, and maybe I wouldn't have got the opportunity in the first place.

'When I was at Southampton, I chose to go down the route of being a manager. As soon as you do that you put your head on the block - I know that.

'But the chairman made me caretaker after Dave left, then interviewed people, then came up with the solution that I was the right man for the job.

'So then to be judged eight league games into the next season was disappointing. I would have preferred to have had 17 or 18 matches. We were about to come into a spell of games that were winnable. The chairman was a great believer in continuity and stability, but then that just suddenly went out of the window.

'But I now know there are a lot of managers out of work and somebody's got to lose their job for someone else to get back in - that's the jungle that we work in. Any jobs that are available, the usual names get thrown about.'

Gray does not disguise the fact that he would like to be a manager again, despite his connections with Villa.

And while he has not said where his ambitions lie, there could be the chance for him to move up when Taylor's contract expires at the end of next season - if the former England manager decides to retire for good.

'I'd like to get back into management eventually and I feel lucky that John Gregory gave me the chance to work for him just a few days after I left Southampton. Now I'm picking up bags of experience from working alongside Graham Taylor,' said Gray.

'What happened to me at Southampton hasn't put me off. I think Graham would be disappointed if his staff weren't ambitious. I want to be part of what Villa are doing, but we all set goals whether they be 12 months, two years or three years away.

'I'm not bothered about being a No.2 though, at what is a huge club. I get tremendous job satisfaction.'

Gray has yet to return to Southampton but this is the second time he has met his former club at Villa Park.

'I won't be worried about meeting my old boss tomorrow. I shall say hello and shake hands - that's the way football is,' said Gray.

'All I'm worried about now is making sure Villa get the results we deserve. We played Southampton last season at Villa Park and beat them, which was enjoyable for me.'

CAPTION(S):

BITTER TWIST... Gray would shake Lowe's hand
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 20, 2002
Words:727
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