Goalkeeper Stephen Bywater is a likeable chap, but he fully intends bullying Doncaster Rovers into the play-offs.
Manager Paul Dickov said his central defenders’ ears must have been burning after Bywater took command on his Rovers debut, marshalling them to such an extent that he only had one save to make in the ‘Pitmen’s derby.’
Bywater is no stranger to these parts, having made 32 appearances for Sheffield Wednesday from 2011-13, but it was at Derby County where he first teamed up with Dickov and Robbie Savage, and the trio have kept in touch ever since.
Hence the reason Oldham lad Bywater jumped at the chance to join Rovers until the end of the season after being released by Millwall, and following Manchester United’s decision to recall Sam Johnstone from the Keepmoat and then loan him to Preston with a view to a permanent six-figure move.
Of his Rovers bow, Bywater explained why he was so vociferous in keeping Luke McCullough and Andy Butler on their toes.
“That’s my game that is. That’s my box and I’m always going to be involved in any goals we concede so I am going to try and keep them (the opposition) away from the box and keep them (his defenders) on their toes and help them out any way I can,” he said.
“I don’t want them to get dragged out wide, my centre-halves. They need to stay in the centre of the box, open their bodies out, look for men coming in, and they were brilliant (on Saturday). It was actually a pleasure to play in the team.”
After overseeing only a third home league win of the campaign for Rovers, Bywater set his ambitions higher. “I hope we can now mount a push for the play-offs because we have some good players and the league is so tight. Three points and we will be in the play-offs and that’s how I like it. Then we will see what happens from there.”
In spite of not having made a senior appearance since the start of November on loan at Gillingham, the 33-year-old, who would love to earn an extended contract, explained how he had kept prepared for any call.
“I played at Gillingham on loan at the start of the season with Peter Taylor and I played for Millwall Under-21s on Monday and then I came here and trained on Thursday.
“I think I am mentally strong and you have just to stay fit, believe in yourself and keep going.
“I felt lucky when this opportunity came along. The goalkeeper went to Preston so it was about filling the slot that was available.
“Millwall wanted to part company so I was lucky that there was a slot for me to come and play for a big club.
“The whole team in front of me was brilliant. We created some chances and I thought it should have been more than 1-0.
“I was really pleased with the whole team never mind the two centre-halves. It’s my dream game, really. I stood there, kept a clean sheet – the whole team has – and that’s all you can ask for really.
“I settle in anywhere because I get on with anyone and I know a few of the lads so I have settled in quite nicely. They are a good set of lads who feel together even though it is not a massive squad so we will all have to stick together and look after each other.”
Reds manager Danny Wilson believes Bywater and his men were helped by his players being architects of their own downfall, never finding the penetrating pass when in possession and leaving themselves open to the counter-attack.
It was from one such move that the game was settled, Harry Forrester, given a rest to the bench, coming off it to provide a finishing lesson to Theo Robinson and Curtis Main.
Forrester held off right-back Mason Holgate, cut inside and curled the ball beyond former Rovers goalkeeper Ross Turnbull for a wonderful finish in the 86th minute.
Holgate’s frustration boiled over in stoppage time when a late challenge on Richie Wellens brought him a straight red card.
It compounded the exasperation felt by Wilson – “it was a bit of naivety, nothing malicious” – who was adamant Barnsley should have been awarded a “stonewall” first-half penalty for a foul by Reece Wabara on Dale Jennings, the one player to force a save from Bywater.
Wilson said: “Wabara was nowhere near the ball and he hacked him down. The referee was in a great position but did not give it and you had better ask him why because we were all dumbfounded about it.”
The winning goal, however, eased the frustration in the Rovers camp of seeing both Robinson and Main spurn two first-half chances and Turnbull denying Rovers’ captain and former Barnsley target James Coppinger at his near post with a smart save after the break.
Dickov stresses that he remains happy with the efforts put in by his front two, but he is set to stengthen attacking options today by signing former Manchester City and Ivory Coast striker Abdul Razak.
The 22-year-old has been released by OFI Crete due to financial pressures and has agreed terms, but will require international clearance.
Doncaster Rovers: Bywater, Wabara, McCullough, Butler, Stevens; Bennett (Forrester 69), Keegan, Wellens, Coppinger; Robinson (Middleton 89), Main (Tyson 67). Unused substitutes: McCombe, Marosi, Wakefield, de Val.
Barnsley: Turnbull, Holgate, Mvoto, Nyatanga, Smith; Jennings, Hourihane, Berry, Jennings (Phenix 65); Lalkovic; Waring (Lita 72). Unused substitutes: Scowen, Davies, Digby, Williams, Bailey.
Referee: K Wright (Merseyside).