ALEX Baptiste reckons he can soldier on to a 20th season in professional football, just as long as the young guns don’t catch up!

Described by his manager Ian Evatt as “Benjamin Button” for the high standard of his training at the age of 35 – the defender racked up a 600th career appearance in Tuesday night’s 3-0 win at Rochdale and is now just four away from a century in Bolton colours.

It is nearly 18 years since he made his debut for Mansfield but Baptiste insists he is enjoying football just as much as ever.

While he still leads the pack in pre-season and returns running stats of a player half his age, the former Blackpool and Middlesbrough man would be happy to extend his second spell with Bolton a little longer.

“I’m an honest lad and if I make a mistake I will say it,” he told The Bolton News.

“It is the same with my play, if I’m slipping or the standard drops too much, I will hold my hands up and say I can’t do it anymore.

“I will know when to call it a day but right at this minute I feel okay. You are a bit stiffer the day after a game but as long as I am keeping up with everyone and not letting the team down. Maybe 18 months, a year after this, we’ll see where we end up.”

Baptiste’s first season in professional football, 2002/3, saw him make four appearances for the Stags and come up against luminaries like Steve McMahon, Mike Sheron and Marco Gabbiadini.

And he can recall breaking into a Mansfield side who were on the verge of relegation to the old Division Three under another nineties legend, player-boss Keith Curle.

“I do remember my debut – at Barnsley for Mansfield, I was 17, so that is a long time ago,” he said.

“This is my 19th season and I want to get to 20. That seems a good way to round it off.

“It has gone by quickly but I have been very fortunate with injuries, so I am getting on now but I still feel OK. I will know when it is time because I don’t want to let my team down, and I don’t want to let myself down either. I will keep going.”

Some 599 appearances later, Baptiste was able to celebrate with a victory at the Crown Oil Arena on Tuesday night, even though he was unaware of the milestone when he jogged out on to the pitch.

“I didn’t know about it, to be honest. I have racked up a few games, haven’t I?” he said.

“I am quite a forward-looking person, I don’t like harking back. My best years are behind me now as a player but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“There have been highs and lows. It could have been better, it could have been a lot, lot worse, so I know how lucky I have been.

“More importantly, it was good to get a win because it has been tough for the whole club this month and everyone involved in it.

“It was good to get back to how we play.”

Although Wanderers mixed and matched their team during the first two group games of the Papa John’s Trophy, Ian Evatt made minimal changes at Rochdale in an effort to get a win – and some goals – into a side that had looked out of sorts at the end of October.

It also signalled a sea-change in the way the competition has been viewed at the UniBol, with prize money and the lure of a Wembley final now adding a different perspective.

Baptiste has never won a knockout competition, although he did sample Wembley success alongside Evatt as a Blackpool player in the 2010 Championship play-off final.

And the thought of getting back to the national stadium in the autumnal years of his career is one that appeals.

“It would be amazing,” he said. “I like the competition. But football is football.

“The gaffer showed his intention with that team and a win is a win. It is important to get the confidence back around the place because we were all lacking a little bit.

“Monday we came in and had a good meeting, talked about what we could have done better on Saturday at Portsmouth, but then Tuesday was a professional performance and hopefully we can go and do the same on Sunday now against Stockport.

“I like the cup competitions. You can use them to help your league form. Hopefully that is what we can do this week.”