Let’s keep this to ourselves but I’ve got a confession to make. And, strictly between you and me, it involves Alex Baptiste.
Now, before I go on, don’t bother calling the National Enquirer. It’s nothing scandalous, sensational or salacious. And, for the avoidance of any doubt, I’m talking purely in a sporting sense. But he’s my type of centre-half. A defender who defends rather than spends his time spraying passes across the pitch. Someone who, observed from distance at least, takes more pleasure from impeding centre-forwards rather than trying to impersonate one. In short, a guardian of what is fast becoming a dying art.
The demise of players prepared to spill blood, lose teeth and unfortunately, as Baptiste can testify, shatter bones to stop an opponent from scoring causes me great concern. Forget all this ridiculous modern day nonsense about creativity now topping a combative nature when it comes to constructing the perfect back three, four or even five. Because it’s complete and utter cobblers. Warriors like John Terry and Robert Huth are regarded as old school when, really, they should be in vogue.
Baptiste’s presence has brought an aggressive edge to Sheffield United’s rearguard which, as the facts and figures behind their season reveal, it previously lacked. Yes, a change of shape has proved beneficial. But not as much as a new state-of-mind.
Think I’m overstating Baptiste’s case? Well, consider this.
United enter tomorrow’s game against Gillingham ranked eighth in the League One table and 16th in the one which ranks teams according to the performance of their defence. They have conceded an average of 1.32 goals per game since August but exactly 1.0 following Baptiste’s arrival on loan from Middlesbrough. During matches the 30-year has started, this drops to a mightily impressive 0.75. A figure considerably better than the 0.85 returned by Burton Albion who boast the division’s most effective rearguard.
Albion are among only three clubs to average below 1.0 this term. The others, Wigan Athletic and Bradford City, also look strong bets for promotion. How strange.
Guts, not guile, should feature at the top of manager Nigel Adkins’ wish-list when he enters the transfer market in three month’s time.