When he isn’t tormenting opposition defences, Jose Baxter likes to spend time in front of the television studying some of football’s greatest names.
The Premier League, Serie A and Le Championnat are all permanent fixtures on the Sheffield United centre-forward’s viewing schedule but, after scoring the goal which secured this victory over Crawley Town, he revealed the inspiration for his spectacular long-range finish had been discovered much closer to home.
“The way my teammate, Ben Davies, strikes a ball is second to none,” Baxter said. “I’d be surprised if there’s anyone better at it than him in the country, even in the top division, so I’ve tried to learn as much as possible from him.
“I’ve watched him stay behind after training and work on his crossing and dead-ball situations. So I thought it would be a good idea for me to spend a little time with him afterwards doing exactly the same.
“There are always people, whether they are around you or at other clubs, who are better at certain aspects of the business than you are so it seems a bit daft not to try and pick things up from them.
“Ben has taught me lots and hopefully that’s me reaping the benefit of that. He’s so good at what it does it’s an honour to play alongside him, it really is.”
Coach Chris Morgan, deputising for United manager Nigel Clough at the post-match media conference, described Baxter’s strike, a perfect combination of power, technique and placement, as being “fit to win any game”.
Saturday’s contest against John Gregory’s side might not have been the most glamorous on last weekend’s sporting calendar but, from the hosts’ perspective at least, it was still hugely important following their chequered start to the new League One campaign.
“We lost our first two but now we’ve won two on the bounce,” Baxter, who was also on target against Peterborough four days earlier, said. “So hopefully that’s us beginning to work up a bit of momentum now.
“Psychologically speaking, I think that’s going to do us the world of good. We could and probably should have taken something from every single match we’ve been involved in so far, but, confidence wise, you can see it coming back.
“Given the ability we’ve got here, I’ve maintained all along that if we keep believing in ourselves and believing in what the gaffer tells us then we’ll be very difficult to stop.”
Circumstances and statistics conspired to suggest this was never going to be a free-flowing encounter and so it proved. United and Crawley, possessing the joint 20th worst attacks in the competition last season but the fourth and seventh most effective rearguards, spent much of the afternoon locked in an arm-wrestle until the hosts’ superior quality shone through.
Both Clough and Gregory, who hailed the visitors’ performance as “perhaps the best” of his time since taking charge at the Checkatrade.com Stadium eight months ago, have recruited heavily this summer and are still in the process of knitting together their respective squads.
But the sight of United ending a run of seven outings without a clean sheet and recording back to back victories for the first time since March convinced Morgan that real progress is being made.
“Crawley came here with a game-plan and that was to make it really difficult for us,” he said. “That’s exactly what they did so credit to them for that.
“But we stuck at it and, as far as I’m concerned, deserved to come through. Because the outcome was still in the balance right until the end, the lads had to dig in and fight for that.
“If we want to compete and get to where we want to be then that’s the type of thing we are going to have to do.”
“Jose’s goal was absolutely brilliant,” Morgan added. “I don’t think you are going to see many better any time soon and it just underlines the technique he’s got.
“He got plenty behind it without even seeming to try and almost passed it into the top corner of their net. Nobody was ever going to keep that one out.
“Now we just want to keep on moving forward and building, taking things one step at a time. I know it sounds boring, but that’s the way it’s got to be.”
Nevertheless United, with Davies’ delivery and Baxter’s ability to find pockets of space causing their opponents plenty of problems, were indebted to referee Andy D’Urso for not dismissing Harrison McGahey midway through the opening period when the young defender appeared to clip Izale McLeod on the edge of the box.
Gregory, who with his slicked back hair and weather-worn features resembles a prohibition-era gangster, was furious when the Essex official elected against producing any sort of card.
United took full advantage of their reprieve when Baxter, receiving the ball from Craig Alcock, emphatically deposited it in the back of Brian Jensen’s net after the Dane had earlier smothered bravely at the feet of Michael Higdon and Chris Basham as they hunted down Davies’ inswinging free-kick.
“One superb goal settled that,” Gregory said. “And Jose is always going to be prone to produce something special because he’s got that ability.
“But my lads can be proud of how they performed out there even though we didn’t come away with any points.
“This is a Premier League ground without a shadow of a doubt. It’s a daunting place to come and play.
“Some of our boys had never even been to Sheffield before this, let along played here at Bramall Lane, but they coped well and stuck to their guns.”
Although Higdon had twice gone close during the early exchanges, Crawley also enjoyed several openings of their own, with Mark Howard parrying Bobson Bawling’s angled shot to safety before Alcock and Jay McEveley, making his home debut after leaving Swindon, blocked from
ex- Watford youngster and Gwion Edwards.
The Wales under-21 international prevented Higdon from doubling United’s advantage following Baxter’s dramatic intervention as United, with Jamie Murphy showing signs of rediscovering his best form, began to take charge while Basham and Davies also spurned good chances during the closing stages.
United, who face West Ham United in the Capital One Cup at the Boleyn Ground tomorrow, climb to 12th in the embryonic table and Baxter said: “There were times when we had to show a bit of character but we did that. You always know, coming to a ground like ours, that teams are going to dig in and look to make it difficult for us so we might see that type of match quite a few times over the course of the season. But the important thing is we came through and got the points.
“I was pleased to get my goal and I’ve been working hard over the summer to get myself into the best possible shape.
“But the best thing is that we’re a team, a really strong group, and we’re all prepared to help each other no matter who is out there on the pitch. Hopefully that will stand us in good stead for the future.”
Hero: Jose Baxter showed his quality and capped a fine display by scoring the winner. Ben Davies’ delivery from set-pieces and corners was superb while Jamie Murphy showed signs he is about to rediscover his best form.