Sheffield United manager Nigel Adkins has refused to rule-out the possibility of Alex Baptiste returning to Bramall Lane next season.
The centre-half, on loan from Middlesbrough, is expected to return to Teeside at the end of the season after being hailed as a “special player” by Aitor Karanka earlier this month.
But Adkins, who last night admitted United’s promotion hopes will be over for another year if they fail to beat Barnsley tomorrow, appeared to suggest Baptiste’s immediate future has yet to be decided when questioned on the subject yesterday.
Asked whether he wants to retain the defender’s services, Adkins told The Star: “If there’s an opportunity then, yes, definitely. Without a shadow of a doubt. But we’re not in that situation at the moment.
“We are delighted to have him here and we are delighted to be helping him. We’ll see where it goes in the future but, at the moment, all we are focusing on is the here and the now. He’s a Middlesbrough player, we have to remember, with a few years on his contract.”
“From our point of view, he’s here and he’s playing football,” Adkins added. “They might recall him if they end up in the play-offs and we don’t. Then we’ve got a different situation if they get promoted so who knows? The beauty for us is that Alex is here, he’s a great character and he’s performing.”
United’s coaching staff are certain to approach Karanka, whose team lead currently the Championship table, about striking another temporary agreement for Baptiste following his impressive performances since arriving in South Yorkshire. Baptiste, aged 30, joined the League One club after recovering from a serious leg injury sustained during pre-season and has been a driving force behind United’s climb to within four points of the play-offs with three matches remaining.
“Alex has been good, very good,” Adkins said. “He’s fitted in ever so well. With David (Edgar) and Jay (McEveley), the three centre-halves complement each other and it shows the versatility of players. Alex can play in a few different positions, that’s the type of player we are trying to get here. Every player we’ve brought in, they’ve all played at a higher level and are good characters too.”
United enter their meeting with seventh-placed Barnsley unbeaten in four matches but Adkins said: “If we do (lose) then, for this season, I would suggest it could be over, yes. But we’re not thinking about that. Just this game and trying to win it.”