Sheffield United: How to solve a dilemma like Baxter?

Sheffield United's Jose Baxter celebrates after scoring his side's goal against Preston
Sheffield United's Jose Baxter celebrates after scoring his side's goal against Preston

After last night’s transfer deadline passed without incident at Bramall Lane, manager Nigel Clough will spend much of the international break trying to bring some of his temporary targets to Sheffield United on loan.

But before United next kick a ball in anger, against Rochdale on September 13, the Blades boss may also devote some thinking time on how best to utilise a player already on his roster - Jose Baxter.

The former Everton protege, who learned his trade at Oldham Athletic before moving to Bramall Lane just over a year ago, scored his third goal of the campaign at the weekend in United’s 1-1 draw with Preston. Previously played as a lone striker and a No. 10 by Clough, he was deployed in a deep-lying role at Deepdale and created wave after wave of United attack, before eventually finishing one off himself with a superb left-footed strike to cancel out Andy Little’s opener.

“It was a superb strike,” the United chief said afterwards.

“We’ve played Jose as a striker, as a No. 10 and in midfield so far, and that goal hasn’t helped solve the problem! Neither did his performance against West Ham [in the Capital One Cup].

“It’s always going to be a dilemma with Jose because you want to get him in the team somewhere, because we all know what he is capable of doing.

“But it depends on all sorts of things, really, including the game, the opposition and even the time of the season.”

A prodigiously talented Liverpudlian, Baxter is approaching the 150th game of his senior career - but it is easy to forget he is still just 22 years of age.

Ray Hall, Everton’s celebrated academy supremo, lauded a 16-year-old Baxter as a more complete player than Wayne Rooney, at the same age.

But after rejecting a new contract at Goodison, in favour of first-team football, Baxter spent the first two months of the 2012/13 season watching Soccer Saturday in his mum’s front room.

He kept fit in a local boxing gym, before a chance phone call from Alan Stubbs landed him a short-term deal at Oldham. From there, he scored in last year’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley and has set his sights on a return to the big time, with United.

As one of Jeff’s boys might say: that would be an unbelievable story, for the boy from Bootle.