Barnsley’s Liam Kitching hopes to play part in crucial enounters

SOMEWHAT of an outsider looking in at first club Leeds United, Liam Kitching has also largely found himself on the periphery in his time at Barnsley.

Through no fault of his own, it should be pointed out on both counts.

While some of his Academy contemporaries, including good friend Jamie Shackleton, have fared better at Elland Road, the Harrogate-born player never went on to make the first-team.

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The nearest that the left-sided defender got to a senior debut for Leeds was being an unused substitute during United’s embarrassing FA Cup exit at League Two outfit Newport County in January, 2018.

Kitching’s path led to his home-town club Harrogate Town during two loan spells in 2017-18 and 2018-19, with the former Rossett School pupil signing permanently for League Two side Forest Green Rovers in the summer of 2019.

Impressive performances for the Gloucestershire outfit earned him a return to Yorkshire in January when he joined Barnsley for a six-figure fee, penning a four-year deal.

But it has not been a precursor to a change in fortunes.

A troublesome groin injury ensured that his debut for the Reds was put on hold while he worked hard on his rehabilitation.

Debut: Liam Kitching challenges Norwich's Emiliano Buendia. Picture: George Wood/Getty Images

While his new team-mates were announcing themselves on the Championship stage with a head-turning run of form from late winter onwards, Kitching was forced to do the hard yards in the treatment room.

For a player who had just joined a club, it represented something of a nightmare.

Fortunately, Kitching’s ordeal is now hopefully over.

The 21-year-old entered the fray as a late substitute for Toby Sibbick in the Reds’ final game of the regular season at home to Norwich City.

Barnsley head coach Valerien Ismael. Picture: Tony Johnson

It may, on several levels, have been a ‘dead rubber’ for the hosts ahead of the real business of a forthcoming two-legged semi-final play-off against Swansea City – the Reds having qualified for the end-of-season lottery nearly a fortnight earlier – but it proved a significant moment.

On his extended wait for his league debut, Kitching, whose previous competitive appearance arrived on December 5, said: “It is not very nice, to be fair.

“But I have come over the top of it now and I am just ready to get going and play football again.

“The gaffer has been really good and has always come to check up on me and see how I am to take it forward. He has been so good.

“Saturday was such a relief to me. Even though it was only 10 minutes, just to get out on that pitch and get playing and trying to get a feel of it was great.”

Kitching is now aiming for high-profile involvement in two – and potentially three – of the biggest games in their modern-day history against Swansea, with the first leg at Oakwell on Monday evening. The second leg will take place at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday week.

After not being afforded his place in the sun during his time with Leeds, Kitching is hoping that it is finally his time.

“I got on the bench for an FA Cup game, but that was about it. I used to train with the first-team squad, but never broke through properly.

“I keep in touch with the young lads such as Jamie Shackleton. I am still really good mates with him and you never know, hopefully we will play them next season.

“I have dropped down the leagues, but did my time there and got my experience and showed what kind of player I am and I am glad Barnsley took me on.”

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