Barnsley v Leeds United - I’m dying to play well against my former club, says Alex Mowatt
READ MORE - Neil Redfearn on working with Mowatt and Phillips
Sidelined for the Reds’ recent Championship encounter at Wigan Athletic, the midfielder took the opportunity to head into the away end and had a fans’ eye vantage point for the gritty Roses stalemate.
His presence was quickly noticed and given that he missed the game due to a neck issue, he soon realised getting up close and personal with exuberant Reds fans was not the best idea.
That said, if he displays his spectacular penchant for key derby interventions against first club Leeds tomorrow lunch-time, he will not mind a bit of pain if ecstatic team-mates make a beeline for him and issue the hugs.
Fit-again Mowatt said: “The Wigan game was good, but I was out injured with my neck.
“So it was not the best idea to go in with the fans with everyone grabbing me. I went to the toilet at half-time and I was in the thick of it with the songs and everyone was jumping on my back and it probably was not a good idea.
“I could not speak to them at the time as everyone was a bit drunk, I think.”
The pints were certainly raised by Reds followers after their side’s last Oakwell victory over Leeds on a raw Saturday evening in January 2017 – an occasion that Mowatt remembers well.
An unused substitute for the Whites, the Doncaster-born player – aware of Barnsley’s interest in signing him ahead of that winter transfer deadline – watched on as the hosts secured a captivating 3-2 televised victory.
A picture-perfect free-kick in front of the Pontefract Road end from home captain Conor Hourihane – his signing-off ‘present’ before heading to Aston Villa – settled the issue, with Mowatt subsequently brought in as the Irishman’s replacement.
After rising to prominence as a teenager at Leeds, Mowatt was assigned with getting a career back on the straight and narrow which was in danger of stalling.
He is the first to admit that his move away from Elland Road took him out of his comfort zone, with a difficult start to life at Oakwell being the precursor to ‘fending for himself’ in a season-long loan at Oxford in 2017-18.
Now a more mature and rounded player, Mowatt can observe the benefits in leaving Leeds for pastures new.
On notions of being in a comfort zone at Leeds, he admits: “That is what you think when you have had a few good seasons and you think everything will be easy. But it is not and new managers have different opinions and see you playing differently.
“I was not playing as much as I wanted and the manager only saw me playing in a certain position and he had a stronger player in that position, which was fair enough and I felt I was a stronger player in a different position anyway. The move happened so quick, in about five days.
“I was only at Barnsley until the end of the season anyway and was then out on loan at Oxford and living away from home and everything. It grew me as a player.
“I came back and last season was the most enjoyable I have had in my career so far.”
After a renaissance year, gloss would be provided by way of a key derby contribution tomorrow and Mowatt certainly has form in that regard.
He famously made his debut as a 18-year-old for Leeds in a League Cup tie at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium back in August 2013, and derby day has afforded him some special moments in his career to date.
His wand of a left-foot delivered a wonderful goal for Leeds in a 3-0 victory over Huddersfield Town in a West Yorkshire derby at the John Smith’s Stadium in November 2015, and he also netted in a 5-1 routing of the Terriers at Elland Road in February 2014.
Now 24, Mowatt continued: “With it being your former team, you are dying to play well and want to win.
“I enjoyed the derbies against Huddersfield and my debut at Doncaster, which is my hometown club.
“I think everyone likes the derbies. Even against Sheffield United in a pre-season friendly, everyone was excited.
“When the atmosphere is better, it just makes the game better.”
On memories of Barnsley’s most-recent win over Leeds, he added: “I remember the Hourihane free-kick. I think we were fifth or sixth at the time and the atmosphere when Leeds scored was crazy and when Hourihane scored, the whole Barnsley end was going mental.
“In that game, Barnsley were the underdogs and we will be at the weekend so we have nothing to lose and can go out and enjoy it.”
Mowatt will catch up with a few old friends before and after the game, most notably his former Elland Road colleague Kalvin Phillips, with a bit of pre-match banter also nailed on before tomorrow’s kick-off.
While Mowatt had to move away from Leeds to get his career back on the right path, Phillips’s education has continued apace at his hometown club – with his stellar progress being such that he is arguably not only the Whites’ most integral player, but also one of the true talismanic forces in Championship football.
Mowatt’s respect for his big buddy is obvious, but that friendship will be put on hold for 90 minutes amid the derby cauldron.
“We have not spoken about it yet, but I think we might do in the next couple of days,” said Mowatt.
“We always speak. And all the young lads who were in the scholarship keep in touch.
“The way that Kalvin is playing at the minute, I think he has been their best player and he is their main player.
“It is credit to him as he has always worked hard and has got to where he deserves to be.”