Brentford midfielder Shandon Baptiste was pleased his hard work was rewarded with a first-ever start in the Premier League on Saturday after he admitted to “low days” during the past 12 months.
The 23-year-old missed the majority of last season after he required knee surgery in October and sustained a minor problem before this campaign got under way to further delay his comeback. He made a late cameo off the bench at Aston Villa on August 29 to play in the top flight for the first time and then earned a maiden start in the division for the 1-0 loss at home to Brighton after almost a year on the sidelines.
Reflecting on that period, Baptiste said: “You just have to stay positive and those things were seeing the team do well.
“At one stage we were 20-games or something unbeaten so seeing the boys winning and working hard gives you a joy in itself.
“I have good people around me too so they made it not too bad and because I did my ACL before, I kind of knew what I had to do to come back stronger and better. I just tried to implement those things I have learned.
“Yeah, there were low days but now I am seeing the fruits of my labour – like this occasion.”
A full Premier League debut has felt inevitable for Baptiste, dating back to his days with Oxford in Sky Bet League One when he starred in their run to the Carabao Cup quarter-finals in 2019. He shone against West Ham and impressed in defeat to Manchester City before a switch to Brentford in the January transfer window last year.
Injuries have blighted his career, with repeated shoulder dislocations and anterior cruciate ligament damage halting his development before knee surgery was required in October but – against the Seagulls – he achieved a lifelong goal.
“This is everyone’s dream and what I have been working to,” Baptiste admitted.
“I knew if I kept working hard and doing the right things, hopefully I would make it here eventually. To finally do it is a great moment for me and my family.
“(Manager) Thomas Frank and the whole club was great and pushed me. They were not just asking about the injury, they were asking about me and how I was as a person.
“I couldn’t ask for better people or coaching staff to have had during such a hard stage in my career. Everyone was there for me, kept me positive and kept me going.”
After an impressive initial start to life at Brentford, Baptiste is eager to make up for lost time and show he can handle the step up in opposition.
He added: “In the last 12 months I haven’t played a lot of games and even since I joined, I have had a lot of niggly injuries that have kept me out and I wasn’t starting.
“So, hopefully I can build on this and get a good set of games to show everyone what I can do because I know I have a lot more to give.
“It is about building on each game, building myself as a player and playing against the best – which we are doing – which will help me grow. I still have a lot more to come and to show the fans.”