BARNSLEY captain Cauley Woodrow hopes he will be back ‘a lot sooner’ than the usual 12-week recovery time from his knee operation, and believes his side will be in genuine contention for Championship survival when he returns.

The striker, 27, had surgery last week after limping off at Preston North End on December 11.

Asked if he hopes to be back after the international break in late March, Woodrow told the Chronicle: “Hopefully it will be around then but I don’t want to put an exact timescale on it until I have met with the surgeon again next week.

“Initially they said 12 weeks but hopefully it could be a lot sooner.

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“The surgeon said the operation went better than expected. When he got in there, it was really a minor thing and not as bad as we first thought which is obviously really positive.”

Barnsley are currently bottom of the division and eight points from safety with 22 games remaining, including 13 league fixtures in the next eight weeks. Woodrow said: “I 100 per cent believe we can stay up. As footballers you have to believe that. We have done it in the past and we have to do it again. That’s our only option. No one ever wants to get relegated. Obviously we have to win games or we’re going down.

“It’s so tight down there, if you get a run of wins you can be out of it. It’s not a million miles away. We have not had a lot of games recently so maybe that is a good thing. We had that break two years ago with Covid and it helped us. I have been out five weeks and we’ve only played three games so the lads have had a long break. Hopefully, when the games start coming thick and fast, they can pick up results and one win rolls into the next. Sometimes it’s better to play a lot of games quickly, you don’t have time to think about it and things turn around fast.”

Woodrow’s long-term injury has led to speculation that he has played his final game for the Reds as, given their league placing and his contract which expires next year, he could be sold in the summer if they are in League One.

“I am hopefully going to be back before the end of the season and if I am, then I am sure I will play for Barnsley again.

“I don’t want that Preston game to be my last one for the club – no chance.

“I don’t want to think about my long-term future at the moment. I am just thinking about getting fit and keeping the club in this division.”

Woodrow has played more Championship games than anyone else at Oakwell while his 44 goals at that level are more than the rest of the squad combined. He said: “It’s never nice to get injured at any time but I am really disappointed.

“It’s not a good time for me to be injured.

“When things are going well at the club, if you lose players people get on with it and it’s not so bad.

“But when you’re struggling you need everyone.

“I don’t want to hide away and be injured, I want to be out there with the lads.

“Whether it’s winning or losing we do it all together and I want to be a big part of that.

“I am just massively disappointed to be out.

“But it’s part of football, I have to get on with it and focus on getting back fit.”

Woodrow says he will try to contribute as captain despite not playing.

“Whether I am playing or not, I want the lads to do well.

“Obviously we’re not in a good situation so it’s important for me to try to keep the lads’ confidence up and try to help them perform.”

Woodrow is the top-scorer in the league this season with four while Carlton Morris has four in his last five in all competitions, after a knee injury earlier in the season. Aaron Leya Iseka has three in 18, Devante Cole two in 14 and Victor Adeboyejo two in 20 – although many of those appearances have been from the bench – while no one has scored from midfield yet this season.

Woodrow said: “Football is about confidence and we’ve been hit in that area this season. But we still have quality. Carlton has been scoring recently, we also have Aaron up front and Devante scored the other day. We have loads of players who can score. If one goes in, a few will go in.”

Barnsley slipped to the bottom of the league this week, being overtaken by Derby County who had been deducted 21 points earlier in the campaign.

“Whether we’re bottom or second-bottom, it is what it is. We’ve been second-bottom for a long time and now we’re bottom but it doesn’t make a difference – you go down in both positions.”

Woodrow has been lifted by the reaction of fans online to his injury.

“I have been here four seasons and the majority of the fans have been unbelievable with me, and I love them for that.

“I have had a lot of support since I have been out and I’m really thankful for that.

“Hopefully when I get back I can repay them by doing what I do – scoring goals.”