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Bolton's Everton loanee Joe Williams out to impress at Aston Villa

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karlypants

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Jack Grealish may command the midfield spotlight at Villa Park, unless one of the Championship’s best-kept secrets has things his own way.

Come kick-off tomorrow night, the attention of Premier League eyes will once again be fixed on Aston Villa’s swaggering playmaker, Grealish, whose quality has stood out a mile in a mediocre campaign for the Midlanders.

In opposition, and flying slightly under the radar, Wanderers’ Joe Williams will be aiming to put his own case to a watching television audience that he could also have a top-flight future.

Whereas concerns have been raised about the treatment Grealish – the Championship’s most fouled player – has received of late, Everton have been quite content to allow Williams to get his hands dirty amid the hurly burly during loan spells with Barnsley, and now Bolton.

As a result, the 21-year-old has learned how to handle himself. Alongside the more experienced Jason Lowe he has formed a defensive screen very much to the liking of manager Phil Parkinson, who had made him his number one target in the summer.

It was a typically tenacious performance in September’s Lancastrian derby with Preston North End that Williams first endeared himself to the Bolton fans. A post-match scuffle with Deepdale favourite Ben Pearson threatened briefly to land him in hot water – but cemented his popularity in the eyes of a large travelling contingent.

“It was a brilliant atmosphere,” Williams said. “I remember we took nearly 4,000 fans, which is a great following at any level of football.

“It was a class game, being two down and then showing great character to come back into it.

“There were obviously a few fireworks throughout the game, a bit of argy-bargy, but that’s just part of a local derby.”

Signed by Everton as a seven-year-old, Williams is a lifelong fan of the Blues who was on the verge of first team football when two serious injuries – to his knee and ankle – checked his progress.

He had already made an appearance on the bench during a Europa League game against FC Krasnodar under Roberto Martinez and gained international honours with England’s Under-20s but after nearly a year out injured, the decision was made to send Williams out on loan to check his mental and physical strength.

“I’d come back after injury and made the bench a few times for Everton but I wasn’t really getting a game with the first team,” he said. “The manager told me he wanted me to go out on loan and he told me it would be good to get that feel of men’s football.

“As soon as I went out I learned a ridiculous amount, really quickly.

“At Barnsley I had a terrific manager in Paul Heckingbottom and a club that got behind me, week in, week out.”

After standing out in a Tykes side which dropped into League One, Parkinson targeted the youngster’s resolve in August as a replacement for the out-going Karl Henry and Darren Pratley.

The move took some time to complete but the Liverpudlian has been ever-present since his Deepdale debut and is enjoying his time with Wanderers despite the recent slump.

Like Grealish, Williams is Wanderers' most fouled player - although his tally of 20 is rather dwarfed by the Villa man's 74.

Enjoying his time at Bolton, the youngster hopes he can return to Goodison for the final year of his contract to show how far he has progressed.

"I'd love to think I can make my debut for the club I support, he said.

"Being at Bolton, I have learned a lot.

“I want to be in a team that’s hungry to win every game. To be fair, we’ve been in every game and we’ve played some decent sides, like Derby, and beaten them.

“We went away to Ipswich and went down to 10 men and played well there too.

“I have loved every minute of it, I really have, and I have learned a lot in the short amount of time I’ve been here.

“I’m enjoying playing regularly and I think we’ve done reasonably well so far, but I’m confident we’ll get a few more good results down the line as well.”

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