Ben Williams admits his 21st birthday in lockdown was ‘one of the worst I’ve ever had’ but hopes he has more to celebrate this summer with a return to football and Barnsley’s survival push.

The left-back’s birthday is March 31, a week after the lockdown came into force and three weeks after he played in the Reds’ 2-0 home loss to Cardiff City which is their most recent fixture.  He told the Chronicle: “It is definitely one of the worst birthdays I have had but, under the circumstances, you just have to get on with it then make up for it once the lockdown has finished. I got a few presents and had some phonecalls but it was tough not seeing my mates and my relatives. The priority is making sure everyone is safe and healthy.”

Williams admits a return to behind-closed-doors football would be unfamiliar but is hoping the Reds can still make their fans cheer from home despite being seven points from safety at the bottom of the Championship with nine games remaining. He said: “I couldn’t imagine playing a game without fans, because that is one of the most exciting things about football.  Especially at Oakwell, the fans are like a 12th man. It wouldn’t be the same but it might have to be done to get the season finished.  All the lads are confident that we can pick up points. We won three on the bounce (in February), including away games at Fulham and Hull. It’s not ideal being in the position we are in but we know we have the quality to stay up, we are more than capable of it.” 

Williams made his debut last season and played 11 League One matches as Barnsley gained promotion, which they were celebrating a year ago this week. He said: “I couldn’t believe how well my first season went. To get a promotion was surreal because some players go their full career without a promotion. This time last year, to get the promotion and then be in the mix of all the celebrations was really exciting and the highlight of my career so far.”

Williams was given the number three shirt by Daniel Stendel who was sacked in October and replaced by Gerhard Struber. He has so far played 16 Championship games, 12 from the start. He said:  “This season has been a bit hit and miss for me, especially with injuries. I had a run of games under Struber when he first came in then I picked up a little injury which knocked me back a bit. Then I came in for the last game before this all happened which wasn’t ideal. 

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“But now I feel good and fit and want to cement my place for the rest of the season. I have learned a lot from this season in a new league. I am learning every game but I feel I have coped with the challenge of this season pretty well.”

Williams has played for Wales under 21s and has been named in Ryan Giggs’ senior squad previously.  He was disappointed that the lockdown meant Wales did not play a friendly against Austria – where his head coach and several of his team-mates are from.  He said: “It would have been a good one.  I would have liked to get one over on the Austrians. I was joking with them about it but it was just good banter.  I have a good relationship with Giggsy at Wales and he’s always talking about how I am doing with Barnsley when I go on training camps.  I always set myself short-term and long-term goals. Next season I would like to get a full season of games under my belt with Barnsley.  For me at the moment, I just want to concentrate on the club football and pay Barnsley back for giving me so many opportunities.”