FOR someone who has twice thought his chances of a professional career were over before it got started, it is unsurprising Shandon Baptiste described his senior debut as a “dream come true”.

Oxford United’s goal rush at Stevenage gave boss Pep Clotet the luxury to experiment, bringing the midfielder on for the final 19 minutes.

It came as a shock to the 19-year-old, who had told his family not to come and watch because he did not think he would get on.

But as the visitors’ lead grew on the way to a 6-2 victory in the Checkatrade Trophy, Baptiste got his opportunity.

He said: “I was just hoping the team did well in the game so I could get on.

“When it was 4-1, 5-1, then 6-1, I was just hoping the gaffer would say ‘go and warm up’.

“I got on, so I was happy.”

A first professional game is always a big achievement, but few of the United youth team graduates in the last few seasons have had quite as tough a road to tread as Baptiste.

Deemed surplus to requirements by home town club Reading, he was playing park football before the U’s picked him up.

But in the second year of his scholarship, when decisions are made about players’ futures, he dislocated his shoulder twice.

It meant an operation, with months of recuperation.

“In my head I was thinking ‘that’s me done’,” he said.

“It was quite hard because it was my second year and I was going for a professional contract.

“But (then head coach) Michael Appleton had faith in me and gave me a contract.

“It’s a dream come true and all the hard work I’ve put in at the gym and all the running has paid off now I’ve made my debut.”

United gave Baptiste a six-month contract to prove himself – and he fully intends to make the most of the opportunity.

He said: “I know what it feels like to have it taken away from you (after Reading), so I think that’s what drives me to keep on going.

“I never want that to happen to me again.

“I just have to keep fighting, keep on training and hopefully I get more appearances to make my way higher and higher.

“I have to keep going and just hopefully when that point comes I get a new deal.”

Baptiste may not have to wait that long for good news, having impressed Pep Clotet since the Spaniard arrived in July.

The United boss said: “For me he’s shown he is handling training every day and games at the right intensity.

“He’s doing it with a fantastic attitude, so obviously it’s a good time to sit down in September and assess the situation.

“He deserves to be rewarded.”