JAMES Gray admits James Beattie has played a major role in helping him to the brink of becoming an international.
Gray was struggling to establish himself in League Two when Beattie joined Stanley in November 2012, initially as a player.
But the 22-year-old is now the Reds’ top scorer after Saturday’s winner against AFC Wimbledon, a day after Beattie left, and the Stanley players saluted the departed boss after the goal.
“It was something we planned before the game,” said Gray.
“I got on really well with him. He was my room-mate, team-mate then manager, and he’s always going to be my friend. I owe a lot to him, for the way I’ve improved in the last year and a bit.
“It was a massive shock to us, we didn’t really know what to do,” added the striker.
“We’re gutted he left but it was out of our hands. We’re footballers and we had to do a job. At the end of the day, this club’s bigger than everyone.”
Gray’s winner capped a rollercoaster week after he scored two against Tranmere the previous Saturday and captained Northern Ireland in his final game for their Under-21s on Tuesday.
“It was brilliant, I loved every minute of it,” he said. “It was probably a bigger honour than getting called up to the senior squad in the summer. It was even silly things like driving to the game in Belfast thinking ‘I’m captain of this country’. It was massive for me and my family.”
Gray didn’t play during the summer tour of South America and although NI upset Hungary in their first Euro 2016 qualifier, Gray now eyes a first senior cap.
“Looking at the squad it’s possibly the best chance they’ve ever had of qualifying for the Euros. I hope I can be part of it,” he said before Tuesday night’s red card at Oxford. “They haven’t got a big pool to pick from so if I keep scoring I don’t think they can ignore me.”