Wembley-bound Jake Gray hails Pools loan experience ahead of Palace’s FA Cup final date

Jake Gray in action for Hartlepool United at Oxford last month. Picture by Frank Reid
Jake Gray in action for Hartlepool United at Oxford last month. Picture by Frank Reid
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Jake Gray is looking forward to the Wembley experience this Saturday when he goes to the home of English football with Crystal Palace.

The 20-year-old, who was on the bench for the Eagles in the Premier League on Sunday at Southampton, will be in the stands for the FA Cup final as Palace face favourites Manchester United.

And Gray today thanked Pools for helping a “massive” season end on a high after Selhurst Park boss Alan Pardew called him up in the final Premier fixture, which ended up in a 4-1 defeat.

“After the Plymouth game, I was told to report back to Palace on the Wednesday,” he said.

“I was just expecting to see the physio and saying hi to a few people.

“But I ended up training with the first team for a couple of days and was named on the bench for Southampton.

“One of the lads who was on loan at Shrewsbury, Sullay Kaikai, got on at half-time at St Mary’s.

“It shows that if the manager thinks you are good enough he will put you in.

“I didn’t get on but it was great to be in the squad.

“The manager is really good at integrating young players, every day one of the younger lads will train with the first team.

“He said the club had good reports about my games for Hartlepool, which was pleasing.

“I must thank everyone at Pools, my team-mates, management, staff and fans.

“This season was massive, I got to come out to a good club and played a lot of games.

“I’d like to have scored a few more goals but I think the season was successful for me and it’s helped me get in for that final game.

“This week I’m out of the squad but there is a big buzz about the club for the FA Cup final.

“Everyone is really excited and I’m looking forward to watching it.”

Gray already has happy memories of the competition after making his Hartlepool United debut in the first round win over Cheltenham.

The attack-minded midfielder then scored a beauty in the 2-1 third-round home defeat to Derby County, one of the six goals he bagged in a Pools strip.

“I think my goal against Notts County was possibly my best,” he said.

“But the goal against Derby was decent and probably for pure emotion, that might be my favourite.

“I remember the ground erupted and I think I went crazy in front of the Town End!

“My debut was against Cheltenham and I remember the noise when I came out and that was the start of a good little cup run.”

His “decent” goal against Derby proved one of the goals of the round and also became a Jeff Stelling hit on YouTube.

The Pools president celebrated wildly when presenting Gillette Soccer Saturday on Sky.

“I hadn’t seen it until quite recently when one of my mates showed me,” added Gray. “I’m glad it made Jeff happy, it’s a shame we couldn’t have gone on to get the result.”