Nigel Adkins has praised Alex Baptiste’s contribution to Sheffield United’s improved defensive displays, describing the on-loan defender as the type of player he will be targeting during this summer’s transfer window.
Although Adkins privately accepts it might prove difficult to retain Baptiste’s services next season - he is scheduled to rejoin Middlesbrough next month - the United manager could be tempted to try and renew their temporary agreement if Aitor Karanka’s side gains promotion to the Premier League.
But, regardless of where Baptiste’s long-term future lies, Adkins told The Star his qualities are indicative of those new recruits must demonstrate before being considered for moves to Bramall Lane.
“Alex is a good footballer who has played in the Premier League,” he said. “I’ve got players with good attitudes, good characters and that bodes well for the future.
“It’s a shame he’s been out for so long with the injury. We got the opportunity to bring him in from his parent club and he will only keep getting fitter and stronger.”
Baptiste, aged 30, fractured his leg soon after joining Middlesbrough from Bolton Wanderers last summer but, after returning to action for United against Burton Albion, has emerged as a pivotal figure in Adkins’ new-look back three alongside fellow centre-halves David Edgar and Jay McEveley.
United have kept a clean sheet in exactly half of the six games Baptiste has played since arriving in South Yorkshire and, having conceded an average of 0.67 goals per game during those fixtures, would boast the competition’s best rather than 14th most effective defence if that record had been translated over the course of an entire season.
Adkins refused to be drawn on his plans for Baptiste when questioned on the subject following last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Gillingham - “All we are focusing on is the next game and nothing else” - but, with Edgar also on loan, will be keen not to lose two thirds of a rearguard which has proven so effective in recent weeks. Edgar, a Canada international, is set to become a free agent this summer when his contract at Birmingham City expires.
Adkins’ decision to switch to a 3-5-2 formation has been cited as a major factor behind United’s improved performances of late but, speaking ahead of Saturday’s visit to Chesterfield, the 51-year-old argued it would be a mistake to ignore how centre-forwards Billy Sharp and Che Adams have also helped strengthen their rearguard.
“We’ve got to be compact as a team, not get camped in our six yard box which has happened at times this season,” Adkins conceded. “The lads, as a team, have got to work hard and the first line of defence is your attack. Billy and Che have to be pressing but then, behind them, we’ve got to be compact enough to back them up. We want the team to be an attacking threat but also be defensively solid.”