'˜Baps' is doing the business for PNE
Alex Baptiste's consistency since arriving at Deepdale has been a big plus for Preston manager Simon Grayson.
The defender joined PNE on a season-long loan from Middlesbrough on transfer deadline day in August.
Baptiste has started all 12 league games since, with Saturday’s goalless draw against Wolves the fifth clean sheet he has been part of.
He has also contributed in the opposition box, scoring three goals – including the winner at Norwich last month.
Grayson has preferred to go with a flat back four in recent weeks, Baptiste operating at right-back.
Before that, he played in a three-man central defence, while he has also featured at right wing-back.
“We knew what we were going to get when we signed Baps,” Grayson told the Evening Post.
“He’s had a good career and is highly thought of in the game.
“Defenders don’t tend to get too many headlines but he does his job very well.
“Baps has been very consistent so far for us.
“He is a pleasure to work with, the lad enjoys coming into training.”
In many ways, Baptiste is making up for lost time after coming to North End.
Just a few weeks after joining Middlesbrough in July 2015, he suffered a broken leg in a pre-season friendly.
After recovering from that injury, he had a loan spell at Sheffield United last season, playing 11 games.
The 30-year-old played once for Middlesbrough in the League Cup game in August before the Teessiders agreed to him moving to Preston.
Said Grayson: “Going to Middlesbrough was a big move for him but that bad injury meant he never really had the chance up there.
“He took the chance to come to us earlier in the season, work with staff who were familiar to him.
“We’ve all seen what Baps can do and long may that continue.”
Grayson thinks Baptiste’s deadline-day signing – and that of Marnick Vermijl and Aiden McGeady – have proved to be an important part of North End’s recovery from a shaky start to the season.
They lost four of their first five Championship games in August before the trio arrived.
From mid-September, there has been a big improvement in results, with the Lilywhites having lost only one of their last nine league games.
Reflecting on the pattern the season has taken, Grayson said: “We always kept belief after the start we had.
“You often heard me saying that we weren’t a million miles away, even when we were losing those games.
“When you do win a couple of games, you see the spring in the players’ step, they start to do things which they were maybe afraid to try when the results weren’t coming.
“The extra signings on deadline days were crucial, in my opinion.
“McGeady, Marnick and Baps have all made a big difference to us.
“We saw them as players who could go straight into the team rather than just being here as squad players.
“We upped the ante in terms of the level of competition for places within the squad.
“That has clearly helped us get better results.”