NICK MONTGOMERY is a veteran of the Steel City derby.
Of all those who take to the field on Sunday, no-one will have played more times.
The Sheffield United midfielder has figured in 11 since November 2000 when, aged 19, he was involved in a League Cup tie at Hillsborough.
But, tellingly, none of the fixtures have been in the top flight.
Now 30, Montgomery wore the captain’s armband in a 2-2 draw at Bramall Lane four months ago but has recently been out of the side.
Due to the absence of the injured Kevin McDonald, however, he looks set for a return to the fray this weekend.
He stepped off the bench when McDonald pulled a hamstring against Preston North End six days ago and his performance offered a timely reminder of his battling qualities.
Manager Danny Wilson has to decide whether Montgomery or Lee Williamson partners Michael Doyle in the heart of midfield.
“Obviously, I am disappointed that I have not played lately but the lads have done brilliant, especially in the middle of the park,” Montgomery told the Yorkshire Post. “I don’t know if Kevin is going to be fit for Sunday but it was nice to come on against Preston and help us pick up three points.
“I had a tough time over Christmas with my kids in hospital and a chest infection that turned out to be a broken rib,” he added. “But since getting back, I have been patient and waiting for a chance to get back in.”
When Montgomery made his Steel City derby debut, the Blades had players such as Keith Curle, David Kelly and Simon Tracey in their ranks. Former England defender Des Walker was still playing for the Owls along with seasoned-campaigners including Kevin Pressman and Efan Ekoku.
Jump forward 12 years and Montgomery is now a senior statesman – not quite as old as Blades striker Richard Cresswell, 34, or Owls forward Clinton Morrison, 32 – but a senior statesman nonetheless.
He says experience could be key on Sunday when the Blades will look to strengthen their grip on second spot.
“Experience, whether in this game or generally in football, is great to have,” he said. “When I was a young lad, you only benefitted from having older heads around you. For anyone who hasn’t played in a derby, it is going to be a massive shock to the system. It will be a fantastic atmosphere and everyone knows these games are like a Cup final.
“I played my first derby when I was a teenager, it was unbelievable,” he recalled. “But I am a bit of a veteran of these games now. The derby is a game I am used to playing in and, if I am playing, I will be raring to go.”
Although born and bred in Leeds, Montgomery is part of the furniture and fittings at Bramall Lane. His lengthy association with Sheffield gives him an ideal insight into the stature of both clubs.
Surprisingly, given the rivalry, he wants both teams to win promotion but only on the condition that the Blades go up automatically!
“If I was to predict the perfect scenario, we will go up automatically and they will come up through the play-offs,” he said. “A lot of fans probably wouldn’t agree with me – but when we don’t have the derbies it is a shame.
“I think it would be great for the city of Sheffield to have two clubs in the second tier of English football. It should be a Championship fixture when you look at the size of the two clubs and there won’t be many higher attendances over the weekend apart from at the larger grounds in the Premier League.”
The Owls enter the game on the back of four consecutive defeats and the Blades have won six of the last eight but Montgomery does not regard his side as ‘favourites.’
“Going to Hillsborough? In a derby? I am not sure we can go into it as favourites,” he insists. “And forget the league form. That goes out of the window. And they will have massive support. We want to keep picking up points but they have had a really tough run and will be looking to get back on track.”
Montgomery admits the Blades should have won the first meeting of the season but late goals from strikers Chris O’Grady and Gary Madine earned the Owls a share of the spoils.
“It was sloppy to give away a two-goal lead and a mistake cost us the game in the end,” he said. “They kept chucking the ball in the box and, looking back, I still don’t know how it wasn’t a foul (by Reda Johnson) on (goalkeeper) Steve Simonsen for the equaliser.
“But we will go into the game with the confidence we took from the result against Preston,” he stressed. “It is no secret that Sheffield Wednesday are a direct team. They have got some physical players and know how to play.
“We know Wednesday are a good team, we are not going into it blindly and we are well equipped to deal with how they play.
“We won’t change anything that we normally do. As a home team, you are always under more pressure whether its a derby or not.”