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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers News » 'If you can't enjoy it now, when can you?' - Baptiste on 'Maldini' & Newport

'If you can't enjoy it now, when can you?' - Baptiste on 'Maldini' & Newport

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

There isn’t much about Bolton Wanderers that is recognisable from their last meeting against Newport County – just ask Alex Baptiste.

Back in September, Ian Evatt’s side had made their worst start to a season in decades, were struggling to bed in a much-changed squad and looked miles away from making a promotion challenge.

The starting line-up in a 2-0 defeat contained just a handful of names who will be aboard the bus to Rodney Parade this afternoon. Many, like George Taft, Liam Gordon, Tom White, Ali Crawford and Jack Hickman, have moved on to find football elsewhere, others, like Billy Crellin or Brandon Comley, have been marginalised completely.

Baptiste watched on from the side-lines, having been dropped from the team completely.

Fast forward six months and Wanderers are the in-form team in League Two, if not the whole country. And Baptiste is getting comparisons to Paolo Maldini.

Okay, there was a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek about the ‘alternative commentary’ created by a Bolton fans which also compared Eoin Doyle to Pele and MJ Williams to Jesus Christ, but the fact the dressing room is laughing along tells you a lot about the changing mood at the UniBol.

“I wish I was as good as Paolo Maldini,” Baptiste smiled. “You have to laugh at yourself. People are too uptight.

“It is good to maybe take a little bit off and play with a smile on our face.

“We were 19th in February and now we are challenging. If you can’t enjoy it now, when are you going to enjoy it?”

Baptiste rates Newport as one of the best sides to have played against Bolton this season – and Mike Flynn’s side have been challenging for the top spots ever since Tristan Abrahams’ double sealed three points at Bolton.

“It will be a tough game,” he said. “They were the best side I think who have played here and though they won 2-0 they also had a few good chances and played some decent football. It could have been a bigger win for them.

“But we are a completely different animal now, a different team. It will be hard going down there but I think we are ready for it. We will be a better team this time around.”

A large part of Wanderers’ rise up the table has been down to their defensive solidity and a run of nine clean sheets in their last 14 games.

Baptiste has forged a strong central defensive partnership with Ricardo Santos – a player he feels is unmatched in League Two – but the former Blackpool man is quick to acknowledge the role Bolton’s attacking players also have in the defensive structure.

“It has been great,” he said. “It is easy to play with Rico and I think he is the best player in the league, it is not even close. Dec (Declan John) is Championship, even Premiership quality, and doing fantastic.

“I honestly think it is a squad game. Nathan (Delfouneso) defends corners so well, so does Eoin Doyle, and we defend as a team, score as a team.

“There are bits of the set pieces that people don’t see and it isn’t all down to the defenders. We do it as a squad effort.”

Though, as a full paid-up member of the defender’s union, Baptiste will have been pleased with a clean sheet on Good Friday, the spoiling tactics employed by Colchester and referenced by Evatt after the game did put a dampener on the afternoon.

Baptiste believes it is something that Wanderers will have to start living with, if their reputation in League Two continues to grow.

“I know who I would rather support and I know who I’d rather play for,” he said.

“I would imagine it is great for the fans to watch the way we want to play, the way the gaffer sets up. We are attacking, we play possession-based football and there might be days we are frustrated, I suppose, but we will get there.

“It takes a lot of different ways to win if you are going to get promotion and hopefully if they haven’t played on it for a month the pitch will be fine. If not, we will have to find another way.

“If you don’t win your battles in this league, you have lost the game.

“Before you even kick off you have to start fighting and then go from there.

“We play attractive football and teams are looking for mistakes to hit us on the counter. It’s a bit like Forest Green – they had one chance where they got the ball, slipped it to the striker and he should have probably shot first time but that is what teams are going to do.

“It is important to us to try and break them down, win the ball and wear them out.

“Teams like Colchester, Barrow and Walsall are fighting to shut the lanes down. They know if they try and play at our strength then they will be picked off.

“It is a compliment, it is a great way to play. And it is great to be in this position because, God, February how bad was it in the league?

“Now we’re disappointed with a 0-0 draw and we’re third. If you can’t take the positives from that there’s something wrong.

“You probably would have taken a draw at Forest Green so there are eight games to go, it’s fine. Keep your feet on the ground.

“We have had a few, like Barrow where we scored with the last kick. We have come a long way in a short space of time.

“There is obviously room for improvement but don’t let it take away from where we have come from.”

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