Chris Basham believes Sheffield United’s experience in romping to the League One title last season can help the Blades this year.
Chris Wilder’s Blades are the surprise package in the Championship this season, sitting third – just two points off leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers – after the opening 12 games of the campaign.
No other team in the second tier of English football has won more games than United, eight victories, and they have already chalked up some memorable scalps.
The obvious question marks will surround how long can the Blades maintain their standing in the leading pack?
But Basham – who netted the winner against a hard-working Ipswich Town on Saturday – insists United have the character to be front-runners once more.
“The gaffer said for the first time today, they are chasing us, so just enjoy it,” said Basham.
The comparisons with David Wagner’s Town are obvious. Both managers have a clear playing model, and spirit in the camp, meaning while the personnel may change, the team dynamic remains.Richard Hercock
“We have characters in our group from last year, when we had every team in League One chasing us.
“Why can’t we have every team in the Championship chasing us?
“But we are not going to get ahead of ourselves, we know it’s a tough league.
“Against Ipswich, if that was in League One I think we would have won 3-0 or 4-0.
“But against a good Ipswich side, who are good at the back and have scored goals all season, it was one of those games where if you kept a clean sheet you might win the game. In the end, we did.
“The way the gaffer goes, it’s just look at the next game. That’s the mentality the boys have in the dressing room.
“Yes, there’s targets. I don’t think we have made any targets, I am probably lying, there’s not.
“It’s just look at the next game and win that.”
Twelve months ago, the Blades beat Port Vale 4-0 at Bramall Lane and would go on to lose just three league games for the remainder of the season.
They accrued 100 points to be crowned League One champions, and the bedrock of Wilder’s team is team unity and hard graft, allied to some quality attacking football.
Similar to Huddersfield Town last season, there are no big-money signings, and the pundits are expecting United to fade as the season goes on.
But just as the Terriers are now plying their trade in the Premier League, United – even if they will not admit it in public – are a club with aspirations to reach the top-flight under Wilder.
The comparisons with David Wagner’s Town are obvious. Both managers have a clear playing model, and spirit in the camp, meaning while the personnel may change, the team dynamic remains.
That has been evident over the last four games, with players coming in and out of the team, yet the level of performances have not dropped.
On Saturday, captain Billy Sharp came into the team, for David Brooks, the suspended Paul Coutts dropped out, while Kieron Freeman stepped in for the injured George Baldock.
“That’s the good thing about us, we have got lads who can come in, lads go out, but everyone knows what they are doing,” said Basham.
“It’s the best team I have been involved with. Everyone is on it in training every day, if someone isn’t then they get told.
“It’s a very close environment, but people express themselves as well.
“We have lads who can start in every position. Young Brooks was unlucky not to start today, but we have got the captain back, and Duffy who played ever so well against Forest.
“It’s an environment where everyone who comes on the field has done really well.
Against Ipswich, United enjoyed plenty of possession in the opening 45 minutes, without creating any clear-cut chances. Jack O’Connell just failed to connect with Basham’s cross, while at the other end Ipswich should have scored but Blackman saved Martyn Waghorn’s long-range effort, Jonus Knudsen headed over and David McGoldrick poked his shot wide.
With Freeman – stretchered off with a dislocated knee, Jake Wright coming on as a substitute – United came close to an opening goal.
Sharp did well to win the ball on the left, but his cross nearly forced an own goal from Knudsen. With Leon Clarke lurking, Knudsen lunged in to divert the cross goalwards, and it needed goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski to be alert to save his team-mate’s blushes.
The all-important goal came four minutes after half-time, John Fleck’s left-wing cross picking out Basham, who powered home his header.
“The gaffer said don’t get frustrated at half-time, because the boys came in and we were frustrated – and a bit down – that we didn’t score,” said Basham.
“But I was in the right place at the right time and Fleck got another assist to his name.
“I got up early, it landed straight on my head, the keeper couldn’t get a hold of it.”
Wilder offered to buy Basham a celebratory pint, so will the defender be taking his boss up on the offer? “Of course I will,” he smiled.
“We will celebrate at the end of the season.
“If the boys keep on doing what they are doing, we won’t be far away.”
Both sides hit the crossbar in the second half – Clarke for United, shortly after Waghorn was denied for the visitors – but the Blades were worthy winners.
Sheffield United: Blackman, Stevens, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Lundstram, Clarke, Sharp (Brooks 68), Carter-Vickers, Freeman (Wright 40), Duffy (Lafferty 86). Unused substitutes: Moore, Donaldson, Hanson, Carruthers.
Ipswich: Bialkowski, Iorfa, Knudsen, Chambers, Webster, Skuse, Waghorn, McGoldrick (Celina 72), Ward, Nydam (Sears 72), Kenlock (Downes 58). Unused substitutes: Gerken, Smith, Spence, Connolly.
Referee: T Harrington.