Hartlepool loan star heads back to Crystal Palace
Jake Gray was 'desperate' to score a goal on his Hartlepool United farewell.
If there was one player you could excuse an off-day at Plymouth Argyle, it would have been the 21-year-old.
He knew he’d be unlikely to pull on the blue jersey with white sash again, yet it did not stop him from giving his absolute all.
Saturday’s game at Home Park was a throwback to some depressing days earlier in the season when Gray stood head and shoulders above his team-mates.
The Crystal Palace midfielder tried his socks off to raise Pools from their mediocrity, only to be denied three times by Argyle keeper Vincent Dorel.
The 21-year-old also saw a cracking shot hit the side-netting.
“Everyone is really disappointed,” said Gray. “We know the standard wasn’t good enough.
“Hopefully when pre-season comes around everyone will up their game.
“I was trying desperately to get a goal to finish off my season, I’m disappointed I couldn’t do that.”
It was a sad end to a happy stay for Gray, who “loved” his time in Hartlepool and at Pools.
He was signed by then boss Ronnie Moore from Palace where he had found the net on a regular basis for the U21 side and had been on the bench for a couple of Premier League matches.
Gray did not disappoint and scored twice in his second Pools appearance when Leyton Orient were sent packing 3-1 on the telly.
“I’ve really enjoyed it, I can still remember coming out against Cheltenham for my first game and he fans going mad,” he said.
“It was a great feeling, I’ve loved it here.
“That day against Leyton Orient was brilliant – I didn’t stop buzzing for days.”
But Gray is on his way back to Selhurst Park, where he has one year left on his contract.
“I’m not sure [about the future],” he said. “The manager has said to come back for pre-season.
“With the Euros and players involved in that, there is a chance the club will look at some of the younger players.
“I’ll look forward and take it from there.”
Gray scored six times for Pools, a good effort, though he was disappointed he had not found the net since the 3-1 win over Dagenham & Redbridge in mid-March.
“I started well and six is all right but I’d like to have scored more at the back end of the season,” he said.
“But we were winning and everyone was contributing which was good.
“While it is not as many as I’d have liked, I’ll take it for my first season.”
Surely, Gray can only have enhanced his chances at Crystal Palace?
“I’d like to think so,” he said.
“It’s difficult at Palace, there are world-class players, but it’s hard at any Premier League club, how many players do you see coming through?
“I’d like to think I’ve done well and maybe I might get another loan next season, but we’ll have to see what happens.
“I was on the bench a couple of times this season for Palace.
“I think they rate me, it’s up to me to come back fitter and stronger for in pre-season and see what happens.”
Gray was at pains to thank management, players and fans for making his stay a memorable one.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have played with some very good midfielders and I’ve learned a lot,” he said.
“It’s about developing game-understanding which you can’t really get at Under 21s.
“I’m grateful for been given a chance and to everyone who has helped me out. I’d like to thank the fans for making me welcome.”