Sheff Wed V Charlton at Hillsborough : Match Preview
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Gray keen to break new ground
Sheffield Wednesday manager Stuart Gray will remind his players they will achieve something that has so far eluded him if they beat Charlton on Saturday to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.
Gray, 53, whose playing career with Nottingham Forest, Barnsley, Aston Villa and Southampton spanned 14 years, has never made it to the last eight of the competition as either a player or manager.
Only two members of his current squad have gone beyond the fifth round and Gray believes victory at this stage will allow them to start dreaming of an unlikely Wembley final.
"It's a big challenge," said former Southampton and Northampton boss Gray.
"Chris Powell will have Charlton well organised and they'll have 11 players who are thinking about the quarter-final of the FA Cup, a bit like our lads."
Gray has had stints as caretaker-boss at five different clubs - Aston Villa, Wolves, Burnley, Portsmouth and Wednesday - and after taking temporary charge at Hillsborough following Dave Jones' sacking in early December was not even on chairman Milan Mandaric's initial short-list.
But Gray has seized his chance and an eight-game unbeaten run finally convinced Mandaric to hand him the permanent job after Wednesday's 2-1 fourth-round win at Rochdale in late January.
The Owls stretched that unbeaten run to 11 matches before it was halted by Wigan on Tuesday night, leaving Gray to quickly turn his attention to some unfinished business in the cup.
"I said to the players straight away after the game on Tuesday, that's gone now, we've got to look forward and I asked the question: Has anybody been this far before in the FA Cup?" he said.
"There was only Glenn Loovens and Stephen McPhail, so it's a great challenge for the players with a great prize at the end of it - a quarter-final place."
New loan signings Leon Best, Sam Hutchinson and Gary Gardner could all feature against Charlton.
Gardner's arrival off-sets the injury blow suffered by Jose Semedo, who fractured his fibula and damaged ligaments in the midweek defeat to Wigan.
Boss Gray also hopes to be boosted by the return of centre-half Loovens, who has missed the last three games due to a hamstring injury.
Charlton manager Chris Powell has rated first-choice goalkeeper Ben Hamer "50/50" to be fit.
An ankle injury has restricted Hamer to just one appearance since November 23 and Powell is unlikely to risk him in such a big match.
Left-back Rhoys Wiggins could miss out once more with the hamstring problem picked up at Wigan two weeks ago.
Powell admits Charlton's FA Cup run is a welcome distraction from the team's fight to stay in the Sky Bet Championship.
The Addicks booked their date at Wednesday with a 1-0 win at Huddersfield, decided by Simon Church's second-half goal.
That victory was their second in a row after they beat Oxford 3-0 in their third-round replay just a few days earlier.
However, since those back-to-back wins, Powell's side have lost three successive matches, taking their winless run in the Championship to six games and leaving them three points adrift of safety in 22nd place.
It is easy, then, to see why the Charlton manager is looking forward to getting away from the league and dreaming of leading his team into the last eight.
"It's the longest run we've had for a while; I know it's only the last 16 but it's progress for us in the cup," Powell said.
"It's good because of what has been happening with us in the league. It has given us a different slant on this season and of course you don't want to be known as a cup team but it's a competition we've entered to win, like everyone else.
"We're under no illusions that our season is about retaining our Championship status. But it's (the FA Cup) a welcome distraction."
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