Barnsley FC’s Jack Walton waiting for his chance to supplant Brad Collins

IF Barnsley players are to successfully navigate a way out of their tough Championship predicament, mental fortitude, togetherness and not feeling sorry for themselves will all have something to do with it.

Which brings us nicely to goalkeeper Jack Walton.

This time last year, the Lancastrian was the undoubted Reds No 1, fresh from doing his bit in his club’s staggering act of relegation escapology in that heady high summer of 2020 when he was handed goalkeeping duties for the final nine matches of that remarkable finale to 2019-20 following the first lockdown.

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He kept five clean sheets in that rewarding spell after being brought back into the side at the expense of good friend Brad Collins, who had fought it out for first-team duties with Sami Radlinger for most of that season and not Walton.

Barnsley's Jack Walton last season.( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Handed his chance, Walton took it with both hands and fully earned the right to start in 2020-21.

This time, it was Collins who cooled his heels on the bench and was largely confined to appearances in cup competitions until finally being given the nod ahead of Walton in late January.

Walton, 23, has made one appearance since – in August’s Carabao Cup tie at Bolton – and the boot is now very much on the other foot again.

Collins’s form since being recalled has been exemplary – just as Walton’s was at the end of 2019-20.

Brad Collins of Barnsley has been keeping Jack Walton out of the team (Picture: James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

A strong last line of defence during the club’s rise to the play-offs in the second half of last term, Collins’s form has reached even higher levels during a difficult start, team-wise at least, to 2021-22.

On form, there are currently few better at second-tier level.

The aptitude and example set by both the former Chelsea custodian and Michal Helik, in particular, have been the redeeming features of a forgettable and pretty torrid opening to the campaign.

For the time being, Walton must be the proverbial team man and wait for his opportunity. He will do it without fuss or complaint, like the good professional that he is.

Just as he did ahead of his return to the first team in June, 2020.

His appearance at QPR in the Reds’ opening game after football’s suspension in 2020 was his first at league level in almost 15 months.

In many respects, he has been here before.

Walton said: “At the end of the day, you have to be mentally strong and, as a goalkeeper, it can be a lonely place sometimes.

“You make a mistake on the pitch and most of the time, it will be a goal and there is no-one there to help you and you have got to be mentally tough.

“There’s only one shirt and you cannot play in another position, so you are going to have times in your career where you are not going to be playing.

“It is about making sure you are patient as it is a team and not an individual game.”

The fact that Walton and Collins are good friends and have both experienced the other side of the coin in being on the periphery for spells at Oakwell makes the situation that bit easier and less uncomfortable.

The pair enjoyed a good working relationship under Kevin Pilkington, who recently left the club and it is now the job of new first-team goalkeeping coach Thomas Fawdry, who latterly worked with Australian A-League with Melbourne Victory, to establish bonds with the duo in double-quick time.

The friendship between both the Reds senior goalkeepers will surely help in that process as will Walton’s mature acceptance of the professional position that he currently finds himself in.

He added: “There are different roles whether you are playing or not. Both are very important.

“Me and Brad get on really well and are good mates, and when you are not playing, it is your role to make sure the other keeper is ready and you are ready if anything happens.

“I go out there every day and make sure I try and improve myself and you never know what happens in football.

“You have got to make sure you are ready and, in this game, you don’t know when you are called upon and have got to be 100 per cent ready every day.”

There may be understandable collective disappointment at the way the season has panned out for Barnsley, but when it comes to the morale of the Reds’ goalkeepers, it has never been a problem. Quite the opposite.

Walton continued: “There is plenty of banter and Brad is so funny and we go out there and know we can have a good laugh – and then we know when we have got to be serious and work.

“It is such a great balance and makes every day fun and enjoyable and we are quite a close-knit group. You know there’s a ‘GK’ union, so it’s great we all get along.

“The young lad Dan (Jinadu) has also been excellent and we have got a really good group who push each other, which is really good for the club.”