Jonny Williams cherishes first Wales goal after injury heartache

Jonny Williams is mobbed after his late winner for Wales in Bulgaria
Jonny Williams is mobbed after his late winner for Wales in Bulgaria

Jonny Williams admits there were times when he wondered if he would ever play for Wales again.

The midfielder featured regularly for his country after making his debut as a blonde-haired and boyish-looking 19-year-old back in 2013.

But after playing a part in Wales’ momentous run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals, a series of injuries saw him miss almost two years of international football before returning to the fold last year.

Williams has since helped Wales qualify for another major tournament – next summer’s delayed Euro 2020 – and on Wednesday he scored his first international goal with a brilliant late winner in Bulgaria.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” says the 27-year-old Charlton Athletic player.

“At times I did wonder when I’d score my first Wales goal and I still can’t quite believe it.

“There were times when I wondered if I’d ever be back in a Wales shirt a couple of years ago.

“It’s been such a rollercoaster for me. I’ve had so many highs in a Wales shirt but at club level I’ve been knocked back quite a few times.

“But since I’ve been under the gaffer [Ryan Giggs] here for Wales, he’s always given me a chance to play at this level and I’m just glad I can repay that faith.”

It was remarkable that Wednesday’s goal was Williams’ first for Wales, considering how creative and attacking a player he is and that this was his 25th cap.

And yet that was remarkable in itself, that in seven years he had managed only 25 appearances.

Injuries were the main reason – knee, shoulder and ankle issues all conspiring to limit the former Crystal Palace playmaker’s availability.

However, he has always been a firm fans’ favourite for Wales supporters, who nicknamed him ‘Joniesta’ in playful homage to the former Barcelona and Spain maestro Iniesta.

Although Bulgaria welcomed back a limited number of home fans for Wednesday’s Nations League match as the country eased its coronavirus restrictions, there were none from Wales as restrictions remain tighter in the UK.

That meant Williams was not able to share the moment with his father, who usually travels home and away to watch his son play for Wales.

“My dad probably had his top off at that point so it’s probably a blessing he wasn’t here,” Williams laughs.

“I’m sure they’re all delighted back home. It would’ve been amazing if the Wales fans were here to see my first goal but I knew what a win would mean for us in the group and it’s amazing to contribute with my first goal.”

Victory kept Wales top of Nations League Group B4, with home matches against the Republic of Ireland and Finland to come next month.

There was a pleasing symmetry to Williams’ goal in Sofia, as the cross was supplied by 19-year-old Liverpool full-back Neco Williams, who he had assisted for an injury-time winner against Bulgaria in Cardiff last month.

“That’s the first thing he [Neco] said – that he was repaying the favour for me crossing to him in the reverse fixture,” Jonny Williams said.

“I’m thankful to him for providing the cross and delighted to get in the right position. I’ve been working hard on getting in those positions and I’d love to score more goals.

“We’re missing some world-class players so to come away with three points shows how far we’ve come as a squad.

“It’s a young squad and I’m probably one of the oldest ones now!

“It’s great to help them come through and give them confidence, like Gareth [Bale] and others did for me. Hopefully we can keep the run going.”

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