Jack Walton admits this season has been the most difficult of his career so far but is determined to finish it as Barnsley’s first choice goalkeeper and help them stay in the Championship.

The 22-year-old has been third choice for the majority of the season but, with Sami Radlinger unable to agree an extension to his contract and Brad Collins nursing a minor groin injury, he started the first game after the restart at Queens Park Rangers on Saturday. The 1-0 win was a first game for Walton in 15 months. 

He told the Chronicle: “It’s definitely been my toughest season so far. I tried to get out on loan at the beginning of the season but it didn’t work out so I ended up being third choice. It’s been hard but you have to stay focused and use the time positively to improve your game.  It can be very hard to keep believing but I have always trusted that eventually a chance will come. My mindset is just to keep working harder every day until the chance comes.” 

Walton – who has been at Oakwell since he was 15 – made a crucial one-on-one save late on as Barnsley cut the gap to safety from seven points to four. He said: "I didn’t know I was going to play until a team meeting that morning but I knew my performance against Sheffield United in the friendly would put me in contention. It was a very professional performance from the team at QPR after a long time out. I had one important save to make at the end but that’s part of goalkeeping. You just have to stay focused and be ready. It was a bit strange without fans, but it was very enjoyable and I was really happy. It’s now about just trying to secure that spot and play until the end of the season and the main priority is to stay up. Since we’ve come back, everyone believes we can do it.” 

Walton’s shock introduction into the first team is reminiscent of when Jose Morais gave him his first Barnsley games at the end of the 2017/18 season, in which they were relegated to League One. He said: “It’s definitely similar but I hope the outcome is very different. I have played at this level before and it’s not something that fazes me. I am just really excited and looking forward to the challenge.” 

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Radlinger is due to leave the club on Tuesday. Walton said: “Sami is great. He came in last year and the GK union is a very close bond so it is sad to see him go. It’s been great to train with him and learn a few things by watching him.”

Tomorrow’s match against Millwall is likely to bring a return to Oakwell for Luke Steele who was Barnsley’s number one when Walton arrived in 2013.   “I trained with Luke a few times when I was in the under 16s. As a 15-year-old, he was someone I wanted to emulate because he was very successful.”