With John Fleck and Paul Coutts cementing their places at the heart of Sheffield United’s midfield, Chris Basham admits he now owes an even greater debt of gratitude to Alan Cork.
Cork, the former United centre-forward and assistant manager, was responsible for guiding Basham through the early stages of his career as a young professional with Bolton Wanderers.
Speaking ahead of Sunday’s return to the Macron Stadium, the 28-year-old revealed it was Cork who first noticed he might, in time, develop into a pretty handy centre-half.
“Alan was the first person who put me there,” Basham said. “It goes back to my days as a reserve at Bolton when he was a coach there and, despite being a midfielder, I’ve always felt pretty comfortable in that position. Everybody else used to say I needed broader shoulders to play at the back. But I always knew I could do it and, to be fair, Alan did too.”
Basham (pictured) has impressed at the heart of United’s rearguard since returning from suspension against Shrewsbury Town last month. Having feared the burgeoning partnership between Fleck and Coutts would condemn him to a long spell on the sidelines, manager Chris Wilder handed Basham a lifeline when Jack O’Connell was taken ill before the 3-0 victory at Greenhous Meadow. With United losing only one of their nine outings since, it is a measure of his performance levels that Wilder has continued to select Basham in defence having previously stated he would only play there in “emergencies.”
“I think going to the three at the back has really suited me,” Basham continued. “In fact, it probably helps having a midfielder in there because you need someone who is comfortable, who is used, to bringing the ball out. When you’re in midfield, you’re always turning whereas at the back you always know where you are on the pitch.”
Basham, who made 21 appearances for Bolton before arriving at Bramall Lane via Blackpool in 2014, is expected to start this weekend’s FA Cup second round tie despite James Wilson’s imminent return from injury. The former Oldham Athletic centre-half took part in a behind closed doors friendly at United’s training complex on Wednesday after missing 11 games due to an ankle complaint. Bolton manager Phil Parkinson, who watched United beaten 1-0 by Walsall on Tuesday, has no fresh injury doubts although his preparations have been hampered by a major financial issue, which could see co-owner Ken Anderson take sole charge of the club, behind the scenes.
“Flecky and Couttsy have been doing really well in the middle,” Basham said. “They’ve dominated opponents in there but I can dominate in a different way at the back and the gaffer knows he’ll always get a shift out of me no matter where I play.”