LUKE Thomas says he has had a smile on his face every day during his recovery from a broken leg and believes he could return to Barnsley’s team this month.
The 23-year-old midfielder sustained the injury in a freak incident in training in early October and has been out for almost four months.
But he has been training individually outside since the New Year and believes he could be in contention for selection by Michael Duff towards the end of January.
Thomas told the Chronicle: “My leg is really good now. I don’t have any pain. I’m looking forward to getting back in full training with the lads which will hopefully be soon.
“In my head, I will be back playing at the end of the month. The physios might think a little bit different but that’s what I am looking at.”
Thomas broke his leg sliding in to score a goal in training. With no other players around him, his studs were tapped in the turf and he suffered a double fracture.
“I don’t think that could ever happen again.
“I still can’t believe the damage I did just sliding in like that. But those freak things happen in football sometimes. I got my head down really quickly and got on with it.”
Thomas, who has battled mental health and fitness issues in the past, believes the state of mind he has been in for the last year has left him better-equipped to deal with the set-back.
The Gloucestershire man said: “Injuries are never good but it was probably the best time for me to get injured.
“I had a few weeks at home with my family which was really good then got on with my rehab here. When you are in a good place mentally, it is much easier to recover.
“It’s probably the only time I have been injured and been happy.
“I have had a smile on my face every day.”
When the injury happened, Barnsley had been playing 3-4-3 but, missing Thomas’ energetic presence and struggling for goals, they changed later that month to Duff’s favoured 3-5-2 and drastically improved their results.
“The formation has changed and it’s really worked. In that system, I probably see myself as an eight (one of the wide positions in a central midfield three) getting up and down, doing dribbling.
“The formation when I was playing really suited me. I wasn’t quite back to my best but showing signs of it. I was disappointed with the amount of goals I scored. I should be doing better with taking chances and getting assists as well. Hopefully, when I get back, I can get those numbers up.”
Thomas is out of contract in the summer.
Have the club and his agent started negotiations over an extension?
“I don’t think there have been any talks.
“My main focus is to get back playing and show Barnsley what I can do. Hopefully when I do that they can start to talk. It’s definitely somewhere I can see myself for longer. I am really happy here on and off the pitch.”
Thomas praised the support of his team-mates as well as head coach Duff.
“The lads and the staff have been brilliant. They have kept me involved. I have watched most of the games. It’s been the same as if I had been playing.
“I live with Herbie (Kane) and I hang out a lot with Kitch (Liam Kitching). Those two have been really good.
“Conor (McCarthy, out for the season with a knee injury) has been great. We’ve worked together day in day out and helped each other.
“I couldn’t ask for any more from the gaffer.
“We have spent a lot of time playing pool together and making jokes.
“We speak every day and he’s been really good.
“The fans have helped too. I put a post out on social media when I was injured, I got a lot of brilliant feedback and it really cheered me up.
“I am just looking forward to playing in front them again soon.”
Immediately after Thomas’ injury, Barnsley endured a four-game spell of one point and no goals. But, after changing formation, they won six out of seven to get into the play-offs places.
Thomas said: “They’ve been on fire. They went on a good unbeaten streak. They’ve been playing some really good football and getting results off the back of that. They are in a really good position to kick on in the second half of the season.
“There’s nothing better to come back to than a team in a good position. All the games are massive at this point and I can’t wait to be back out there.
“It’s really exciting. There is nothing better than going for promotion. We’re not getting too far ahead but I don’t see any reason we can’t do something this season.”
Thomas has played 77 games for the Reds since joining in 2019. He returned last summer after a loan at League Two Bristol Rovers and has been impressed by the progress made since under Duff.
“When I first came back it was bit awkward and the standard wasn’t where it needed to be.
“But the change the gaffer has made in the team and the whole building is ridiculous.
“Everyone can see that on the pitch.”