Northern Ireland form was catalyst for Accrington Stanley striker
10:30am Saturday 26th October 2013 in Sport
JAMES Gray believes his appearances for the Northern Ireland under 21 team gave him the confidence he needed to find his best form at Accrington Stanley.
Gray did not even make the bench for Stanley’s first game of the season at Newport but is now their top scorer after netting his third goal in six games in Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Bristol Rovers – the club’s first league win of the campaign.
The 21-year-old son of former Burnley striker Phil Gray has twice missed Stanley matches recently after joining Reds team-mate Shay McCartan on international duty for Northern Ireland under 21s.
But Gray says that experience gave him a big boost just when he needed it.
Northern Ireland travelled to Belgium in early September to face a side containing the younger brothers of Chelsea stars Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.
Earlier this month he faced Belgium again in Lurgan before making the daunting trip to Serbia, where Gray scored in a 3-1 defeat.
“I went away on international duty and it’s a different sort of football,” he said.
“You’re playing against top players in the world basically and I think that did help me a lot. It gave me a bit of confidence that I needed.
“I just wanted to come back and do it for my club.
“We played Belgium away in the first trip and that was tough.
“Then I went away again and we played Belgium at home and lost, and in the second game I scored against Serbia, which was really pleasing.
“Obviously it’s disappointing because I have missed games for Accrington going away but when your country comes it’s a massive honour for me.”
Gray grew up in the north east but his father was born in Belfast and picked up 26 caps for the senior Northern Ireland team. He hopes he can emulate that one day, having already caught the eye of senior boss Michael O’Neill.
“I’m not going to get carried away but the senior manager has seen me play and he does like me,” Gray said.
“He said if I keep playing the way I am and keep scoring goals, there’s not a big pool to pick from. So if I get my head down and keep scoring for club and country hopefully I can get the call-up, which would be a massive thing.”
For now Gray’s focus is today’s League Two trip to Morecambe, when he will face former Stanley team-mate and renowned chatterbox Padraig Amond.
“I hope he doesn’t talk to us or we’ll fall asleep on the pitch!” Gray joked. “I spoke to Podge last week and he said well done for scoring in the international.
“We can’t wait for this game, it’s a local derby and we think we can go on a little run.”
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