Chris Basham believes Chris Wilder’s faith in his own ability to restore the good times at Sheffield United is now starting to be rewarded.
The lifelong Blades fan took over at Bramall Lane in the summer, eager to end a six-year exile in League One for his beloved club.
Managers of the ilk of Danny Wilson, Nigel Clough and Nigel Adkins had all tried and failed, so there was some scepticism – and a culture of dealing with false hopes – when Wilder arrived at his home-town club.
Despite an impressive CV in the lower leagues, managing the Blades was Wilder’s biggest challenge in his managerial career.
One point from their opening four league games highlighted the task facing Wilder – a former ballboy and player at the Lane – but they have since turned their fortunes around.
A 2-1 win over Oxford United on August 27 has seen United embark on a 12-match unbeaten run in League One.
They have achieved wins in emphatic style, rattling in 26 goals in their last seven outings.
For Basham, United’s success can be attributed to the passion of Wilder, who is not afraid to halt a training session if he believes his players are shirking their duties.
“I have worked with some great managers in my time, I still think the last two (Clough and Adkins) here were good managers, but this guy is outstanding for me personally,” said Basham.
“He’s very aggressive in training, the intensity in a head tennis game to a five-a-side match is massive, you don’t want to lose.
“I think it’s down to the aggression the gaffer brings on the training pitches. If things aren’t going right, he will stop training and pull us in saying ‘this is not us’.
“He knows the lads have got talent and quality, but we have the hard work now.
“We have got the momentum to win games, and I think that’s important.
“When you go on a run like this, everyone’s confident and no-one wants to step out of the team. Everyone brings what they can do to team.
“The fans have all jumped on the gaffer being a Blade, like his family, he loves the club from the bottom of his heart.
“Everyone wants to work for him.
“The manager believed we could be successful in pre-season, but now we have gone 12 games unbeaten everyone is believing now.
“There is a buzz about the place, even coming into training.
“We are scoring goals, even I am, everyone is chipping in which didn’t happen last time,” added Basham, the 28-year-old netting three times this season.
United’s unbeaten run means confidence is high. When they trailed 1-0 at half-time at Chesterfield last Sunday, there was no panic in the dressing room.
The Blades ran out comfortable 4-1 winners, and their 3-5-2 formation seems to suit the players available to Wilder.
Basham said: “We came in 1-0 down (at Chesterfield), but there were no arguments on what was going wrong.
“Everyone knows what they are doing, where to put the ball for (Billy) Sharp or (Leon) Clarke – who has been brilliant since he came back – and we are scoring a lot of goals from it.
“Everyone knows we need to work hard, win the ball back, then we have the quality.
“We have a winning mentality now. It sounds very simple, but we are scoring a lot of goals and creating chances.”
Former Blackpool and Rochdale utility player Basham struggled in the opening exchanges at Chesterfield, as former Blades striker Ched Evans helped set up Jon Nolan’s second-minute opener.
But the midfielder-turned-defender soon settled down and admits he is enjoying playing as a third centre-back.
“I played in defence in my Bolton Wanderers days, as a reserve player,” said Basham, whose side play host to Shrewsbury Town today. “I always felt comfortable there, but was never really big enough. In the first five minutes against Chesterfield, I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing.
“Ched (Evans) had got the better of me, but then I finally found my feet, so did the team, because we didn’t start very well.
“I am really enjoying playing in the 3-5-2, the gaffer encourages me to get forward and put crosses in.
“I can come out with the ball from the back, I am not scared of losing it because I have people behind me. That has helped, with the experience of being a midfielder.
“At Bolton I was a midfielder, and Alan Cork – who people know from his time at Sheffield United – said go and play at centre-half in the reserves.
“People would say ‘he will be a very good centre-half when he is older’, but that never really came about playing two centre-halves. I think playing three centre-backs really helps me.
“As a midfielder, you think you need to score a goal, set-up a goal, or dominate the game. In this league, I don’t do that enough like Coutts and Fleck do. But I can dominate the game in a different way, winning balls, passing it about, and the gaffer has seen that.”
Basham has played in most positions since arriving at Bramall Lane in 2014, and even admits he would play in goal if an emergency arose.
“I have never played in goal, but I would volunteer to take the gloves,” he smiled.
Shrewsbury arrive at the Lane on the back of three successive wins under new chief Paul Hurst, a former team-mate of Wilder’s in their playing days at Rotherham United in the Nineties.