What many people will not remember, as all the attention was on the celebration where the iFollow cameras were focused for the fans watching at home, was Jack Walton standing perfectly still in his penalty area and bellowing for his team-mates to get back into position.
“I didn’t join in the celebrations,” said the goalkeeper who had been arguably Barnsley’s best performer in the nine games after the re-start and was rewarded with a new contract last week.
“I stayed exactly where I was. I knew there was a good three or four minutes left of stoppage time. I was trying to get everyone back into position and telling them we could celebrate when we had won the game.
“It was hard not to get emotional, but you have to stay focused. We needed to finish the job. Then, when the final whistle went, it was a great feeling and I sank to the floor.”
Waiting a few minutes was no problem for Walton who had waited 455 days between starting in Barnsley’s crucial victory at Walsall in March 2019, on their way to automatic promotion from League One, and the conclusion of the extended 2019/20 campaign. He had been the back-up to Adam Davies who left last summer and was replaced by Sami Radlinger and Brad Collins who relegated Walton to third choice.
After a failed attempt to leave on loan, the 22-year-old spent most of the season out of the squad or on the bench if one of the other ‘keepers was injured.
“It was hard but I used that time to improve myself physically and mentally. I was always ready and got myself in a position so that I could take the chance when it came. I had to be really patient but eventually my chance came. That wait has made me a stronger character.”
The coronavirus crisis, amidst its other horrendous and more important impacts, redrew the football calendar in a way that present opportunities for the likes of Walton. Radlinger left the club when his contract expired in June and, with Collins nursing a minor injury, Walton’s impressive displays in training earned him a start at Queens Park Rangers when football resumed.
The Reds won 1-0, the first of five clean sheets in nine matches for Walton and Barnsley, who won their last two matches in injury-time to survive – having been seven points adrift when football was suspended.
“It couldn’t really have gone any better. It was really good for myself to play the games as they came thick and fast which was great after such a long time without playing. It was a bit strange without fans and all of the players miss them and can’t wait for them to come back.I was really happy with my performances, to get five clean sheets in nine at such an important time of the season was excellent for the team.”
As well as backing Walton, head coach Gerhard Struber handed debuts to Oduor, Elliot Simoes, Matty Wolfe and Romal Palmer while continuing the development of the likes of Callum Styles, Ben Williams and Jordan Williams. Walton said: “The gaffer has given us young lads a chance, especially after lockdown with Wolfey and Romal making their debuts and Callum playing a pivotal role. Then there’s myself and the two Williams. We have all repaid him with our performances and shown we are good enough to keep our place.
“He (Struber) came in when I was third choice but he always spoke to me regularly. I am very hard-working and down to earth so I think the gaffer saw straight away that I was trying to better myself on and off the pitch. That made it easy for him to put me in when it was the right time.”
Walton made a series of vital saves, perhaps the most impressive being the strong right hand he stuck out when Barnsley were 1-0 up at Brentford to push Bryan Mbuemo’s close-range effort onto the post. He said: “I thought it was an important save because it was right on half-time so, if we had conceded, it would have given them momentum and been a suckerpunch for us.”
Chief executive Dane Murphy said the most important moment of all nine games was Walton’s one-on-one block from Harry Cornick in the 1-1 draw Luton Town, three minutes after Aapo Halme had netted a late equaliser. Walton said: “It was a strange game, we were very frustrated because we had a lot of chances but didn’t take them.
"After we scored it was frantic and end to end because both teams thought they needed to win. They got in and it was a big save. We were disappointed not to win but, looking back now, it just shows how important that save was because a point was crucial.
“I never want a player to go through one-on-one but, when it happens, I am ready. It’s the time when a goalkeeper can shine and make a crucial save. It’s like a goal at the other end.”