After breaking into Carlos Carvalhal’s Owls team as a teenager – featuring in League Cup upsets over Newcastle United and Arsenal – many inside Hillsborough predicted a bright future for the Academy youngster.
But when 24-year-old Wildsmith took to the pitch last weekend, as the Owls faced Nottingham Forest after the coronavirus lockdown, it was his first Championship start in over two years.
And while it marked a 50th appearance for his hometown club, it has taken five years to reach the milestone.
With competition from Keiren Westwood and Cameron Dawson to contend with – several changes of manager did not help the goalkeeper’s chances of playing – plus a serious knee injury, picked up in pre-season last summer, Wildsmith has had to bide his time.
“It was great to get back, doing what I love doing,” said Wildsmith. “It’s been a while since I have had a Championship appearance.
“It’s been a good learning curve, a mad couple of years.
“I have been dropped, I haven’t been favoured by previous managers, picking up a really bad injury, it’s been a rollercoaster that I have had to ride.
“To come out the other side with a new sort of belief, a new outlook on football. I was in a situation where everything could have been taken away with the injury.
“But I am back now and probably feel better now than I ever did, physically and mentally.
“I have got that buzz back. The last two years I have missed it. I just want to play football and help this club get where it wants to be.
“I want to be No 1 at the football club.
“When the gaffer (Garry Monk) came in, I was injured, but he asked everyone to fill out a form asking what their targets were for the year.
“I gave myself a big target, that was to be this club’s No 1 by the end of this season. Hopefully this is my chance to prove that.”
Before Saturday, Wildsmith – who had loan spells at Alfreton and Barnsley early in his career – last played Championship football in April 2018.
His comeback game this season – after his knee injury – was against Manchester City in the FA Cup in March, before lockdown.
“I completely ruptured my posterior cruciate ligament, in the game out in Germany,” said Wildsmith.
“It was a knee to knee in the challenge, the injury is common in car crashes when people whack their knees on the dashboard.
“The impact was really bad. I was in a brace for 12 weeks without being able to move my leg. It was a tough period.
“They told me it might never be the same as it was, I would have to do rehab on it for my whole career.
“But it (the knee) turned out great. There was no operation, it was left to heal naturally, it’s reconnected now and feels as good as ever. I have not had a problem with it since. I do rehab before training to keep on top of things, strength-wise.
“I am really happy with the guys who looked after me in the physio department.”
That injury dashed his chances to impress then boss Steve Bruce, although Wildsmith is no stranger to having a new manager.
“It was tough under Jos (Luhukay),” he recalled. “Obviously, I played a few games under Jos that season then lost my place.
“Then I thought it was coming to a time where I might get a chance, and Jos got sacked, Bully (Lee Bullen) took over and Westy (Westwood) came back in.
“I thought I was going to get a chance and then I was down to third choice. It was like ‘wow, what’s going on?’.
“Steve Bruce came in, so I thought work hard again, hopefully prove a point, keep working hard and might get a chance.
“But then the injury came and it was tough. It’s been a mad couple of years. I don’t know if things would have been different if I hadn’t been injured, who knows?”
While Wildsmith enjoyed a relatively quiet afternoon against Forest in a 1-1 draw – he had little chance with Joe Lolley’s goal – it was an eventful afternoon for team-mate Connor Wickham.
The on-loan striker netted a late equaliser against Forest, his first goal for the Owls in his third loan spell at Hillsborough. The 27-year-old was shot of match fitness when he arrived from Crystal Palace in January, but has returned after lockdown in fine shape.
“It was great for Connor to score,” said Wildsmith. “He has had a tough time since he came back on loan to us.
“He had a great time when he first came (on loan), he was scoring goals for fun. Coming back, he had a tough couple of games, but he looks sharp, fit and raring to go since we came back off lockdown.
“The goal symbolised that and fully deserved for the work he has put in.”
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