Hard men who make your choice so tough

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CHOOSING Sheffield United greatest post war centre-halves is as tough as the tackles they have inflicted upon opponents.

Singling out eight from a group which contains names such as Joe Shaw, Tony Kenworthy, Brian Gayle and Paul McGrath is an exercise in splitting hairs and subjective decision making.

Players with different skill sets and attributes.

But bonded by excellence.

Over the course of the next fortnight, Star readers will be asked to pick their favourites from a shortlist of luminaries carefully selected by this newspaper and a panel of experts boasting strong associations with the South Yorkshire club.

The first quartet have all been nominated for their combative qualities.

Next week’s collection of supremely gifted stoppers adopted a more subtle approach to preventing goals.

First comes a name well known to even the youngest sections of United’s support.

Perhaps not surprisingly given last season’s wretched results, he is the first in this series who is still operational at Bramall Lane.

Indeed, Chris Morgan’s absence due to a serious knee injury sustained during October’s defeat by Coventry City has been cited by many as one of the defining moments of a campaign which ended in relegation.

Had the Barnsley-born defender, who arrived from Oakwell in the summer of 2003, been fit then it seems inconceivable that United’s rearguard would have been breached with such alarming regularity.

It speaks volumes for his whole-hearted commitment that, even after rupturing ligaments following an accidental collision with Lucas Jutkiewicz, he tried to convince then manager Gary Speed that he was prepared to try to “run off” the damage.

In an era where histrionics have unfortunately become the norm, Morgan is welcome throwback to times when theatrics were confined to the stage rather than football pitch.

True, the 33-year-old has sometimes been guilty of immersing himself too deeply in the darker arts.

But Morgan is ready to soak up as well as dole out punishment.

When Wigan Athletic’s Lee McCulloch clubbed him with a vicious haymaker during a fixture at the JJB Stadium in 2006, he urged the authorities not to punish his rival.

“It’s a man’s game,” Morgan told them. “We dish it out and then shake hands afterwards. We’re sportsmen. We’ll always get bumps and bruises. It’s part and parcel of the game.”

Robert Page, most recently of Chesterfield, Gayle, Brian Richardson and McGrath can all count themselves unfortunate not to have made the cut.

Had McGrath made more than 12 appearances after joining from Derby County in 1997 then he would have been a shoe-in.

Kenworthy, who lived life to the full both on and off the pitch with United, could have gained international recognition had he engineered a transfer to one of England’s more fashionable outfits at the time.

Despite being born in Leeds, he progressed through the ranks at Bramall Lane and was capped at youth level, but a call-up to the senior squad proved elusive throughout his 465 league appearances.

Kenworthy, who made the breakthrough in 1976, joined Mansfield Town 11 years later.

Eddie Colquhoun did win representative honours.

Having made his United debut against Huddersfield Town in 1968, his leadership qualities quickly saw him gain the respect of fans and teammates alike. Not to mention the captain’s armband which he sported on his first appearance at Bramall Lane seven days after that tussle with Ian Greaves’ side.

A member of the 1971 promotion-winning side, Colquhoun made over 400 appearances for United before heading to the States in 1978 and is immortalised in song.

Harry Latham, who served United as both a player, sponge man and coach, enjoyed some legendary battles with Derek Dooley before the flame-haired striker crossed the Steel City divide.

A Second Division Championship medal winner in 1953, he was eventually forced to hang up his boots through injury.

But not before making 427 appearances both before and after the Second World War.

One former teammate described Latham as “a lovely bloke off the pitch but as hard as nails on it”.

Richardson is a controversial omission.

An old fashioned half-back, there is a school of though that in the modern game he would be deployed as a midfield enforcer.

But the tenacity and determination he demonstrated during his 12-year stint with United meant he would have been the perfect addition at the heart of any defence.

n United are appealing for Brian Richardson, or anyone who knows him, to contact John Garrett at Bramall Lane.

Telephone him on 08719 951 899.

MIKE Lyons with blood running down his face from a cut head.

Vic Mobley limping through an FA Cup semi-final and still managing to jump for joy at the end.

Those have been two of of the most striking images of Wednesday centre-halves over the last 45 years.

You could add Graham Coughlan, groggily trying to get back on the pitch after a bang on the head, or Nigel Pearson holding up the League Cup at Wembley.

The powerful, brave, dominant centre-half is an essential member of any team - and the Owls have had their post-war greats.

Lyons was an inspirational captain, as was another of our four contenders, Pearson.

Mobley was a 60s hero, and how could Peter Swan be overlooked for a place in our Owls Dream Team?

Before Swan’s career was wrecked by the betting scandal that landed him and others in trouble with the law and the FA, the South-Elmsall-born defender won 19 England caps between 1960 and 1962 and figured in the World Cup Finals in Chile.

After early days with Doncaster Boys, he played for England Youth, the Under-23s and the Football League and was a Wednesday regular for six years.

With Tony Kay and Tom McAnearney, he formed a half-back line that was renowned throughout the country. He helped the club to win the Second Division championship in 1959 and finish runners-up in the First Division in 1961.

He was brought back to Hillsborough by Derek Dooley in the early 70s and was in the twilight of his career as he took his tally to 299 starts for the club plus two outings as a sub.

Swan was not exceptionally tall and was known for wearing the shortest of shorts - but he was a giant of a performer for Wednesday.

His exit from the game in 1964 meant an opportunity for Mobley, and he seized it, becoming a regular for five seasons.

Mobley won 13 caps for England U-23s and one for the Football League and made 210 appearances for the club. He would also have played for England in 1964 had it not been for an injury.

But he is always associated with another game that he was forced to miss, the FA Cup Final in 1966.

Mobley injured an ankle in a tackle on George Graham in the semi-final 2-0 win against Chelsea in a Villa Park mudbath.

There were no substitutes in those days and he battled through to the end - but could not play in the final three weeks later and was replaced by a 19-year-old, Sam Ellis.

Mobley also missed the first two months of the following season but he then regained his place

The strong, blond defender, who was signed as a teenager from Oxford City, had made 111 consecutive appearances for the Owls when QPR signed him for £55,000 in 1969.

Although not as old as Swan had been when beginning his second spell at Hillsborough, Lyons was thought by some to be past his best when Jack Charlton imported him from Everton in 1982 for £80,000.

Lyons had played 460 games for the Goodison Park outfit and captained them for eight years.

But in three years at Hillsborough he was as good as new and endeared himself to fans with his leadership, passion and defensive steel.

He helped Charlton’s team to reach the FA Cup semi-finals in 1983 - when they lost to Brighton - and was a big influence as the Owls earned promotion under Howard Wilkinson and then established themselves in the top flight.

It was with Wednesday’s blessing that he left in an £85,000 deal to become player-manager at Grimsby in 1985, after making 116 appearance for the Owls and scoring 16 goals.

Two years later came another man who became synonymous with character, leadership, ability and a never-say-die attitude: Nigel Pearson, signed from Shrewsbury after playing well for them in two cup ties against the Owls.

Pearson was the kingpin and captain of the team that won promotion in 1991 and triumphed in the League Cup Final against Manchester United at Wembley, where he was also Man of the Match.

He contributed 20 goals as well as 218 games plus six appearances as sub, during five years as a first choice.

Like Mobley, he also missed out on a Wembley date because of injury - he broke his leg in the League Cup semi-final at Blackburn and missed the two finals against Arsenal.

He was signed from Shrewsbury for £250,000 in 1987 and moved on to Middlesbrough for twice that amount in 1994 - but his success did not end there.

He helped Boro to the Division One title in 1995 and to three cup finals.

Since his successful move into coaching and management he has been linked with the Wednesday job just about every time it has been vacant.

He is now manager at Hull but he is only 47 and maybe one day he will be back!