Just wondering whether a misfit midfielder could turn out to be an important player for Sheffield United - as a centre half. Step forward Chris Basham and, in style, quite literally so.
Fair to say there’s been a degree of scepticism about some of Nigel Clough’s work in the summer transfer market and not only because United have yet to make the sort of headline capture supporters anticipated after a Saudi Prince became involved.
But, slowly but surely, Clough’s signings are coming good in a team now more than half filled by his recruits. In particular, an all-new back four is starting to cement over the earlier cracks in the wake of Harry Maguire’s departure.
Paddy McCarthy, on loan from Crystal Palace, is cast as the central figure with Neill Collins mysteriously frozen out. Yet Basham seized an opportunity to make a big impression in that role in the midweek FA Cup win over Crewe. It may not have been the most challenging of nights as United cruised to a second round tie with Plymouth by out-footballing a footballing side. But, with McCarthy suspended, Basham stood out as a strong, commanding figure who - more eye-catchingly - launched many an attack by carrying the ball smoothly from the back.
Has the versatile former Blackpool player found his best position? “We think so,” says Clough. Basham is certainly winning over those who questioned some muddled displays in midfield.
His comfort on the ball can add a fresh dimension to a side which, in the absence of the sought-after out-and-out-striker, relies on playing to feet and breaking from midfield. United remain a team just lacking that final piece in the jigsaw and, on the evidence of one defeat in 10 games and only six goals conceded, a trio of home league games (Oldham, Notts County and MK Dons) can be approached with confidence. Those question marks against Clough’s reshaping of the side are gradually being erased. Jay McEveley has settled into the other centre back role, flanked by Craig Alcock and Bob Harris. Stefan Scougall is hinting once more at being a scurrying menace from midfield and teengager Louis Reed, introduced by the Blades boss, looks as if he can remove some rough edges from his compact game.
But equally good to see those of the manager’s inheritance, Michael Doyle, Jamie Murphy and two-goal Ryan Flynn, making their mark along with the returning Jose Baxter. Who needs a striker? Well, United plainly do and efforts were continuing as the Telegraph went to press. A Chris O’Grady loan move from Brighton is still on, apparently with the blessing of all parties, but is out of Clough’s hands until, or unless, the Seagulls sign another forward first.
It has been a less than spectacular first three months of the campaign after last season’s stirring revival and run to the FA Cup semi-finals. Yet, in all but one area, United have the quality and depth to convert a top six place into top two. The signs can only be good.