Matt Woosnam takes a look at Jake Gray, the academy prospect who recently signed a pro contract with the club…
Attacking midfielders with an eye for goal, these are the type of midfielders that every team needs. Step forward Jake Gray. Palace’s academy continues to go from strength to strength, although this story has a bit more of a background to it than most.
Gray turned 18 on Christmas day, and Palace gave him what must be one of the best presents he will ever get, by offering him a professional contract which he agreed and signed until the end of the 2014/2015 season. Gray can play across the midfield, centrally or on either wing, but is usually more at home in a central role. Similar to Kyle De Silva, he has an great footballing brain, alongside plenty of talent on the ball. His greatest attribute is the way he runs with the ball at his feet, as evidenced by a goal he scored at home to Liverpool back in October. Winning the ball in the centre of the pitch about 30 yards out, he beat four players and rolled the ball past the goalkeeper into the bottom right hand corner of the goal from just inside the area.
Jake’s goal is here at 2 minutes and 40 seconds in:
Jake Gray joined Palace in the summer when Wycombe Wanderers closed their academy, citing the high financial costs as being the main reason. Palace moved swiftly to invite him down to the training ground and he obviously impressed the academy bosses as he was then signed to a scholarship contract. Although born in Aylesbury he speaks as though he’s lived in London all his life.
If there was a player to compare Jake Gray to, then it would be Darren Ambrose. Although in many ways they are very different players, Gray has the same sort of ability to change a game with a fantastic piece of skill, a defence splitting pass or a mazy run. However, he also brings in the less desirable side that Ambrose displayed, that being the tendency to prove anonymous for large parts of the game, although he doesn’t necessarily play poorly when the ball comes his way. Gray is slightly inconsistent, but that is understandable for an 18 year old and does not detract from his outstanding talent. Ultimately, a comparison to Ambrose is perhaps slightly unfair on a young lad working his way up from the academy having not long stepped up from a lower league at Wycombe. Especially when Ambrose has scored some of the best goals that I have ever seen for Palace. Jake Gray has his own natural attributes that make him stand out from other players on the pitch. When he runs with the ball it is reminiscent of Jon Williams in the way that he is able to retain possession and avoid losing the ball, it’s almost as though there is glue on his boots.
Ultimately, there is a lot of talent in the Palace academy but with plenty of competition in the first team, Gray will have to step up and improve the weaker areas of his game if he really wants to stand out and have a career at Palace. A different style of player to those we are used to seeing break through the ranks in recent years, not a winger or a playmaker but a solid attacking midfielder with a decent eye for goal who isn’t afraid to run at players. Gray has plenty of potential but it remains to be seen whether he will realise that at Palace, or elsewhere. Indeed, during the early part of the season it appeared that the players coming through would be more defensive minded ones, in Gus Sow & Hiram Boateng, but both Gray & striker Sullay Kai-Kai (who has also signed a two year professional contract having scored 7 goals in 11 games) have evidenced their talent with some excellent performances against some impressive teams. One thing is for sure though, with a two year professional contract the club believe he has something to offer and that gives him the best possible opportunity of beginning a career in football.