CHRIS BASHAM insists Nigel Clough is the right man to lead Sheffield United’s promotion push next season.
The Blades’ hopes of ending their stay in League One at the fourth attempt were dashed on Monday night by defeat in the play-offs to Swindon Town.
A remarkable second leg at the County Ground ended 5-5, meaning Nathan Byrne’s dramatic stoppage-time winner at Bramall Lane four days earlier ultimately proved crucial in sending the Robins through 7-6 on aggregate.
Missing out on promotion came as a bitter blow for a side who had started the campaign as the bookmakers’ favourites to win the title.
Many supporters have since voiced that frustration by questioning Clough’s stewardship on post-match radio phone-ins, while the matter has also been debated at length on various internet message boards.
Basham, however, is adamant that the Blades’ best chance of winning promotion next term is with Clough at the helm.
“He deserves to see the job through,” the 26-year-old told The Yorkshire Post. “We have had a great season.
“Swindon was our 60th-odd game. I know people say it wasn’t a great season because it wasn’t ‘mission accomplished’. Which it wasn’t.
“But we got to the semi-final of a major cup, we got to the semi-final of the play-offs.
“It wasn’t ‘mission accomplished’ but the gaffer and his staff will sit down over the summer, get things sorted and we will be all ready to play for Nigel Clough next season.”
United’s season stretched to 63 games and featured many memorable triumphs, most notably during the run to the Capital One Cup semi-finals as both West Ham United and Southampton were dispatched by Clough’s men.
It is, though, the league where the club’s priority lay and a fifth- place finish plus defeat in the semi-finals meant the campaign ended with that main ambition unfulfilled.
A truly dreadful first 18 minutes in the second leg at Swindon, ultimately, proved too costly as a 5-1 deficit on aggregate was simply too much to make up.
That said, Clough’s men battled gallantly to fight back from not only 3-0 down on the night but also 5-3.
“I haven’t been involved in a game like that,” admitted Basham, fresh from scoring his first goal in United colours during that amazing 10-goal thriller, “or a team that scored five goals away from home, to be honest.
“We are all very disappointed with how we came out at the start. After 10 minutes, our backs were against the wall.
“I can’t explain it. We set ourselves up to not concede in the first 20 minutes, but we ended up 3-0 down. I honestly couldn’t tell you why it happened like that.
“I would say we both came out of the traps like we did at home, but where we didn’t take our chances on Thursday they did in the return.
“There was a response and we went in at 3-2 down at half-time. But we just couldn’t get to a position where we were in the lead or even level.
“There is no consolation in being involved in a game like that. Every lad was gutted, totally gutted, in the dressing room afterwards.
“We just needed one more goal and when the board came up saying seven minutes, I thought we would go on and win it. But, unfortunately, we couldn’t.”
As Swindon and Preston North End prepare to go head-to-head at Wembley on May 24, United’s focus is already turning to next season.
New faces are planned, most notably in defence, and Basham, who signed a three-year contract last summer, is adamant that a strong start must be made to 2015-16.
“We have learned a lot over the season,” he added. “Obviously, we need to strengthen in certain areas. But every lad in that dressing room gave 100 per cent.
“We should hold our heads high but if we can take anything then it is we have to push on. We will be down for a week or two.
“But these things happen in football. We have to come back all guns blazing next season and get off to a good start.
“That is vital. Like Bristol City did this year, I don’t think they lost for the first 10 to 15 games. That is what we need to do.”
Monday’s agonising exit continued a woeful play-off record that now stands at eight failures from eight attempts for the Yorkshire club, a tale of misery that only Preston with nine straight defeats can match.
Basham added: “We can learn from this and come back a better team. I have been in the play-offs three times now. I don’t want the play-offs again. I want automatic.
“We will come back more energised and focused, knowing that we need to be in the top two.
“The gaffer backed all the lads but, despite us getting that head of steam, we never went on a five-, six–game winning run.
“Teams come to Bramall Lane seeing it as their cup final and we have to be ready for that next season.”