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2013-03-01T10:45:00 Updated 2015-02-19T01:12:07

Baxter back in action

Sam Baxter was born to be a goalkeeper.

Standing well over six-foot tall at the age of 18, the Essex-born scholar has the build and frame of a stereotypical goalkeeper.

It would therefore come as no surprise to anyone that he has always been the one to pull on the gloves, throughout his career.

"I played for Hadleigh Town, a Sunday League team where I live, and somebody I knew contacted the Academy goalkeeper coach Jerome John and he watched me play. He was obviously happy with what he saw as I joined West Ham as an Under-15!

"I've always been a goalkeeper. I'm too big and gangly to play on pitch, so I was stuck in goal! It is good. I enjoy playing in goal. Being the last line of defence and saving the day is as good as scoring a goal. I can be the hero in every game."

The stopper will hope to be the hero again when West Ham United head to Tottenham Hotspur's Enfield Training Centre for a Barclays U18 Premier League Tier One fixture on Saturday morning. The match will be the third meeting between the two sides since Christmas, with the Hammers winning the reverse league fixture on 12 January before going down to an FA Cup fourth-round defeat at the Boleyn Ground ten days later.

Baxter, who labels Joe Hart and David De Gea as his two favourite senior goalkeepers, was awarded a two-year scholarship in 2011 and battled Jake Larkins for the No1 jersey in the Under-18s last season.

This term, with Larkins now a professional, he has established himself as the youth team's first-choice stopper and started the Barclays U21 Premier League Group 1 fixtures against West Bromwich Albion and Blackburn Rovers in November, only for injury to halt his progress.

Baxter snapped a tendon his finger in the warm-up ahead of the U21 fixture at Norwich City a week before Christmas, ruling him out for more than two months.

"It started really well for me. I went to Russia and Belgium in pre-season and played well and nailed down the No1 spot in the youth team. I started a couple of games for the Under-21s and in the FA Youth Cup at Aldershot, but then a couple of injuries have meant I haven't played since around Christmas.

"I was very pleased with how the start of the season went. Now I just want to get back and kick-on again. It's all better now, so hopefully I can start playing again. I dislocated a finger on my other hand at about the same stage of last season, so I've been a bit unlucky with them. My fingers are my trade, so I have to look after them and make sure they are right."

Now he is approaching full fitness, Baxter will not be taking any chances with his fingers between now and the end of his scholarship.

"I strap up every finger before every game as a precaution. It doesn't stop every injury from happening, but it does make your hands stronger."

The tall teenager is now targeting regaining his place in the Under-18s and further Development Squad starts before the end of the season.

"I'd like to get back to playing regularly and, if I do and I am playing well, I want to get back into the Development Squad like I was before Christmas. I'd also like to keep some clean sheets as well, as I didn't keep too many before Christmas!"

As a lifelong Hammer, Baxter knows it has been a while since the club brought through a goalkeeper to the first team.

At the age of 18, he knows his time may still be some way off, but is determined to be the next stopper to graduate with honours from the Academy of Football.

"Usually clubs like goalkeepers with experience and you don't really see goalies making their debuts until they are 21 or 22. I'd go out on loan to any club to gain some experience and then hopefully, if I ever get a chance at West Ham, I can take it.

"My No1 aim is to get another year, at least, and to continue working hard to improve and see where it takes me. I hope to get some Development Squad games here or go on loan - whatever the club has got planned for me."

West Bromwich Albion

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