Sheffield United’s greatest team: Name your midfielder

Michael Brown
Michael Brown
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IT’S the area, they say, that makes a team tick. Midfield.

There’s a central two in midfield in our Dream Team selection and, like any other partnership, it’s preferable to have a balance, one complementing the other.

Mick Speight

Mick Speight

So, first up in the selection process in the so-called ‘engine room’ are the midfield dynamoes. Energetic, get up and down the pitch and types that don’t mind getting their hands dirty.

They relished midfield confrontation and one aspect they revelled in was winning the ball and then giving it the flair player alongside (and more of those next week) for him to get on with it.

Actually, first up in the Sheffield United selection in this particular category (in alphabetical order note) is a player who could certainly use the ball as well - Michael Brown.

Indeed, in his golden season with United of 2002-03, he produced some outstanding quality in possession capped by some memorable goals struck from distance with supreme confidence and aplomb.

Trevor Hockey

Trevor Hockey

A total of 22 goals that season (when United reached two cup semi-finals and the Play-off Final) is a considerable feat for any midfield player.

He was the first signing made by Neil Warnock who took him under his wing and ‘managed’ the youngster who was rather headstrong and with an attitude.

Only 21 when he arrived from Manchester City, initially on loan, he gradually improved as he began to mature and displayed an all-round game that was energetic, hard working, diced with some spiky challenges and often seemed to relish a bit of confrontation. At his best, he was a dynamic midfielder who galvanised side.

He made over 170 appearances in all for United, finishing with 35 goals, before eventually getting a chance in the top flight when Spurs signed him in January 2004.

Nick Montgomery

Nick Montgomery

Trevor Hockey must be one of the most recognisable figures ever seen in a Blades shirt.

Think Trevor Hockey and you think the long hair, headband and the thick bushy beard. Almost Viking-like in appearance. And a warrior on the field to boot.

And boot was what he put in because the little midfield terrier was what we’d call “a ball winner”.

Indeed, the manager who brought him to Bramall Lane, John Harris, gave him fairly simple instructions - “you win the ball and give it Tony Currie”.

Hockey, small, stocky and combative, had a distinctive scurrying style, pressurising opponents, putting in the tackles, winning the ball. And if he didn’t win it, chances are the opponent knew that he’d been around!

He became an instant hit with Blades fans because of the impact he had after his arrival in January 1971 (for £40,000 from Birmingham City).

At the time United’s promotion bid was faltering slightly. Hockey’s style of play, the attributes he brought to the side, were just what was required.

He gave teammates and fans a lift and when promotion was clinched later that season, many acknowledged Hockey’s contribution.

A character, he was capped nine times by Wales (four of those while with the Blades) and is believed to have been the first English-born player to play for Wales, having been born in Keighley.

He made 79 appearances for United in a stay of just under two years whereupon he moved to Norwich, but his place in Unitedites’ affections was assured.

After a couple of moves and later playing in America he returned to his home town and managed Keighley Town in 1980 before dying when he was only 47 in 1987.

No-one would ever suggest Nick Montgomery as a candidate for our other section in midfield, the flair players.

But no-one would question either Montgomery’s commitment to the cause or the ability to give it 100 per cent.

A team man rather than an individual, ‘Monty’ has had to overcome the barbs of those critical of what he can’t do rather than acknowledging what he can do.

Teams need their water-carriers. The piano-players need somebody to move the piano. Montgomery knows his role and undertakes it with refreshing honesty and determination.

And if a manager wanted someone to man-mark a key opposing midfielder, then Montgomery got the job - and he stuck to him limpet-like.

Mick Speight endeared himself to United followers through his willingness to give it his all, doing so at a time, in the 1970s, when the club was on the slide.

He never gave less than 100 pc, got up and down the pitch, making challenges, inspiring those around by dint of his own efforts and a refusal to give up.

Like Montgomery, he undertook man-marking jobs when required.

His style took the eye and he did well enough in 1978 to be selected for an England B tour to New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia. He actually scored during his four appearances.

Mick - made skipper at one time - was another who came to United through the Don and Dearne Schools set-up, a link so fruitful for the Blades. He went on to make 240 appearances for United.

Of course, there were others who would come into consideration for this role not least Stuart McCall who would have ‘walked’ into the role based on his overall career. He certainly did well enough for United and was still very influential, but was then in his late 30s and close to the end of his career.

John Gannon, brought in by Dave Bassett, was somewhat underrated; Bob Booker, a club icon, merits a mention whilst further back one would have to consider the merits of such as Tommy Hoyland and Keith Kettleborough.

But the choice has to be from the four named.


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