JORDAN Williams is targeting a first start since October and says Barnsley head coach Valerien Ismael has been a driving force in his return from a series of frustrating injuries.
The versatile defender, fit again after hamstring and thigh problems, has come on as a substitute in five of the Reds’ last nine matches, including the last four in succession, and is keen to step up his minutes on the pitch as the current busy Championship schedule continues with tomorrow’s trip to Bristol City and Wednesday’s visit of Stoke City.
There’s no shortage of competition for Williams, who favours a wing-back role (either left or right) but can also play centre-back or midfield, but Ismael’s rotation policy provides a clear incentive.
And while legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly famously had little time for injured players, the former Huddersfield Town man says the Oakwell boss kept him firmly in the loop while he was sidelined.
“It was a tough few months for me, but the manager was great,” explained the 21-year-old, who started the first nine matches of the campaign before picking up the hamstring problem, and made a failed comeback attempt as a late substitute in the 2-2 Championship draw at Stoke on October 21.
“It was all a bit stop-start, because as well as the hamstring, I started with pain behind the knee, then tore a quad muscle, so I had to be patient.
“But the manager was always talking to me, asking how I was progressing and how I felt, and encouraging me, and he made sure I stayed involved with the group.”
Just before the injuries hit, Williams signed a new contract through to 2023, with the club having the option of adding a further year, reflecting the progress made since his move during the summer of 2018.
And Williams feels the club is also on an upward curve.
“The manager has made his mark already. We’re playing with a clear identity, all the lads are buying into it, and we’ve picked up some really good results.
“Of course we have to be consistent and keep hitting the standard we have set, and I think the options we have within the squad will help with that.
“Being able to rotate helps when it comes to maintaining our high-intensity pressing tactics, and the competition for places means no one can afford to drop off the pace in training or matches.
“The vibe around the place is great as well. We’re a mainly young group, and the bond between us all is strong.
“We’ve seen that we’re developing as a team. I think the contrast between our two matches with Chelsea this season (a 6-0 defeat in the League Cup but only a 1-0 loss in the recent FA Cup meeting) shows that. But we know we have to keep working hard.”