THE emergence of young stars such as Harry Maguire and Jordan Slew has captured the imagination of supporters but Nick Montgomery, Sheffield United’s captain, last night claimed the return of experienced players including Darius Henderson and Lee Williamson has helped keep the South Yorkshire club’s survival hopes alive.
United enter today’s derby with Barnsley knowing they must win to stand any chance of avoiding relegation to League One.
Having urged Bramall Lane’s hierarchy not to sell members of their FA Youth Cup Final squad during the close season, Montgomery is full of admiration for the way his teenage teammates have coped with life on the Championship stage.
But, admitting that a glut of injuries to key personnel has contributed to United’s predicament in the table, the 29-year-old insisted it would be a mistake to overlook the contribution others have made during recent successes over Bristol City and Reading.
“Injuries are part of football but during all my years in the game I’ve never known anything like the number we’ve had this season,” Montgomery said. “We’ve got a small squad and there have been times when we’ve had to bring in loans just to cover lads already on loan.
“People like Cressy (Richard Cresswell) who scored 14 goals last season has been out lately and that’s a blow. But we’ve seen when people like Darius and Willo start coming back after long spells that things have picked up.
“They’re good players, important players.”
United climbed to 22nd following Easter Monday’s 3-2 victory at the Madejski Stadium with Henderson scoring two of those goals. That saw them move to within six points of Doncaster Rovers and Crystal Palace with two matches remaining.
Montgomery described the likes of Slew and Maguire as “a breath of fresh air” and commended manager Mick Adams’ decision to reward their efforts in academy competition with an opportunity at senior level.
With a fresh round of cost cutting likely to be implemented this summer - irrespective of the division United find themselves in - Adams is expected to become increasingly reliant on home-grown talent over the coming months.
“What we’ve seen vindicates (chairman) Kevin McCabe’s decision to invest a lot of time, money and effort in youth,” he said.
“We’re reaping the benefits of that now. Or starting too.
“He deserves to take a lot of credit for it”