The Football League Paper - - FA CUP FOURTH ROUND - By Joshua Richards

ALEX BAP­TISTE is near­ing a long-awaited re­turn to ac­tion, and the Mid­dles­brough de­fender ad­mits that watch­ing his team-mates thrive this sea­son has been par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for him.

Bap­tiste was Boro boss Ai­tor Karanka’s first sign­ing last sum­mer when he penned a three-year deal at the River­side Sta­dium af­ter join­ing from Bolton Wan­der­ers.

How­ever, just 20 min­utes into his pre-sea­son de­but against York City, the 29-yearold suf­fered a dou­ble leg frac­ture.

He is back in train­ing and fea­tured for the U21s this week.

Now, Bap­tiste is des­per­ate to com­plete his re­cov­ery and turn out for the first team.

“It has prob­a­bly been the tough­est time of my pro­fes­sional ca­reer,” he said.

“I haven’t re­ally had a big in­jury like this be­fore, but it’s com­ing to an end, so I’m look­ing for­ward to what I can pro­duce. Train­ing has been full-blooded so I’ve just been get­ting on with it re­ally.

“I’ve never had an in­jury as big as that, so it was hard for my mind.

“I had high ex­pec­ta­tions com­ing here, and to be cut short a week in was heart­break­ing.

“I was more gut­ted that I knew I’d be out for a con­sid­er­able amount of time and that, af­ter just sign­ing, I couldn’t re­ally show what I could do for the squad.

“But I’m back now and, hope­fully, I can pro­duce some­thing for this club.”

In his ab­sence Boro have laid the foun­da­tions for a se­ri­ous pro­mo­tion chal­lenge and Bap­tiste ad­mits he has been im­pressed, es­pe­cially with their miserly de­fence.

“I’ve never seen that in my years play­ing in this league,” he said.

“They’ve been a credit to them­selves and the whole team has been fan­tas­tic. So have the staff.

“We’re all striv­ing for pro­mo­tion so, hope­fully, we can get into the Premier League be­cause this club de­serves it mas­sively.”

RE­TURN­ING: Alex Bap­tiste

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