Sheffield Wednesday v Mansfield Town: Magic of FA Cup won't fade for 'unhappy' Lee Gregory

BRAZIL'S number nine may be the talk of the World Cup at the moment, but Lee Gregory – the player who wears that shirt number at Sheffield Wednesday – can recall the day when he turned him over.

These days, football is about the haves and have nots, although not yet exclusively. The FA Cup is still its greatest leveller, certainly in this country as Gregory can testify.

Then playing in the blue and white of Millwall as opposed to Wednesday, the forward was part of a Lions side who beat five-time winners Everton at the New Den in a fourth-round upset in January 2019.

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Richarlison – who proved a wow in grabbing both goals in Brazil's opening group win over Serbia on Thursday – found the net for the Toffees on that winter's day.

Lee Gregory.Lee Gregory.
Lee Gregory.

So did Gregory, who soon cancelled out his rival's opener, the catalyst to a thrilling home win.

It showcased the magic of the Cup in all its glory, with Gregory also part of a Millwall side who beat three Premier League sides en route to reaching the quarter-finals against Spurs in 2017. That day is one that he’d prefer to gloss over.

Gregory said: "Don't mention the Tottenham game. They were just levels above us, by far. It was a good experience, but I did not touch the ball for 90 minutes.

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"It wasn't difficult for me, but it was difficult for the back five. (Jan) Vertonghen was marking me. (Millwall lost 6-0).

"I remember the Everton game. We had a fortress at Millwall and always said we'd take anyone at ours. We beat Everton and also beat Bournemouth, Leicester, Watford one year and felt we'd beat anyone. It was a good run that one."

The New Den is not a venue that most Premier League sides would choose to visit in the FA Cup and a packed Hillsborough would not be high on the list either.

To give themselves a chance of doing that, the Owls must first negotiate a pumped-up Mansfield side managed by Nigel Clough – who took third-tier Sheffield United to the semi-finals in 2013-14 – and will be backed by over 3,000 fans today.

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Wednesday have already showed their cup penchant this season by taking a top-flight side all the way to penalties in the Carabao Cup in Southampton recently.

They would back themselves, against most Premier League sides, on home soil, given a fair wind. But first things first.

Gregory added: "We feel at home, we’re not going to lose and have got energy from the fans. Listen, let's get through this round first.

"We held our own (at Southampton) and did well and could have come out on top. But that's just the way it went and on penalties, it was anyone's game.

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"We have got a big squad and the entire squad could start any game. With the cup, it helps the gaffer give the players minutes as well. It's good in all aspects."

Released as a youngster by boyhood club Blades, the Sheffielder returned to the EFL via the muck and nettles of the non-league, combining work as an electrician with playing for the likes of FC Halifax Town, Harrogate and Glapwell. He also had a spell with today's opponents when they were in the Conference.

Given his time down the football pyramid – and also with Millwall – the forward is well placed to see why the Cup is the true essence of English football – for its uncertainty, emotion and spectacle.

Gregory, a boyhood United fan from Batemoor, added: "When you go through the preliminaries and get to the first round, it's 'who are we going to get.'

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"Obviously, as non-league, anyone in League One is massive and Halifax once got a big tie against Charlton and it was a big day and enjoyable, even though we got beaten.

"It's the FA Cup. Everyone enjoys it when you start going into the big rounds. I think the magic is still there. Everyone plays it down, when they really still love it."

Gregory is part of an Owls side who are ticking along nicely in terms of results, with Darren Moore's side unbeaten in ten matches in all competitions, taking away their penalty cup exit at St Mary's.

For his part, the frontman professes to not being entirely happy, having been a substitute in four of the club's last five matches.

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He'd had his say with Moore, all done constructively. A goal or two might just advance his cause today.

He said: "Listen, we are not falling out and arguing and stuff.

"It's a big long season and everyone has got to contribute and it's just a case of that. There's no argument or me being unhappy with the club. I am just not happy with not starting.

"Once you have had that conversation, it's done and under the carpet and then you crack on with the game."