Barnsley v Doncaster Rovers: How tough times have worked to Mawson’s advantage

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ALFIE MAWSON may still be in the early throes of what many expect to be a decent professional career, but he is unlikely to forget 2015-16 in a hurry.

Events have provided ample material to fill a book.

Barnsley's Lewin Nyatanga. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Barnsley's Lewin Nyatanga. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

A first move north and early highs were followed by the trials and tribulations of an almost uniformly awful autumn, which saw the Reds enter into freefall and the defender relinquish the captain’s armband.

Then came a remarkable upturn for both team and self, culminating in the recent booking of a Wembley berth, quickly followed by the departure of the man who signed him.

It has certainly been eventful for the Londoner, who turned 22 last month.

Tender in years he may be, but Mawson is a sturdy and well-balanced individual for one so young.

It is easy to see why Lee Johnson invested his faith in him in handing him the captaincy at the start of the season and, despite enduring some dark times this term, he is clearly the sort of professional who takes as much from the bad experiences, as well as the good.

‘What does not kill you, makes you stronger,’ is a mantra likely to serve Mawson well in his career.

As a youngster on the books at Reading, he remembers the “brutal” words of one of his coaches, who said in a meeting that among his group of 15 to 20, only one was realistically going to become a professional footballer.

This helped fuel Mawson with the drive to succeed and also afford him some perspective now he has made it – to be grateful for what he has got and draw upon that in the tougher moments.

Mawson told The Yorkshire Post: “Obviously, it was tough earlier this season. It’s a part of football you don’t enjoy, but you have got to have those moments. I am lucky to have had it early in my season. I spoke to the gaffer (former head coach Johnson) the other day and he said, ‘You could have gone under’.

“I feel we could all have gone under because the results were so bad and weren’t reflecting our performances.

“It was about trying to take a negative situation and turn it and take things from it and use it to our advantage. Now we have and to get seven league wins on the spin was brilliant.

“What happens makes you feel so grateful. Even though you are losing, you could still be doing something (a job) you don’t enjoy. Setting yourself up in life, you could be doing something 9 to 5, but ask anyone in the changing room and they would say ‘not a chance’. You never change it.

“Even when it’s tough, it makes you want to go onto the training ground and work a bit harder. Even at home with the little things – the extra one per cents to change your game. You do it.

“It’s my first time away from home and I thought it was going to be a lot easier, if I am honest. You can take things for granted, seeing your mum and dad and mates all the time.

“But I know to get taken out of my comfort zone purely through my own decision was something I knew would be the best thing for me. Not necessarily in six months’ time or a year, but in the long run.

“I will look back on this tough period on coming through it and becoming more of a man. I have done that in the past six months, massively.”

Barnsley are likely to call upon that sense of resolution and strength in Mawson in the coming weeks, more especially following the loss of fellow defender Kevin Long, whose partnership in the heart of defence has helped buttress the Reds’ New Year renaissance.

Typically, Mawson is ready to shoulder any extra responsibility that comes his way, while being confident that the Reds have enough in their defensive department not to be floored by the exit of Long, who has returned to parent club Burnley.

Mawson said: “Obviously, me and Longy had a good partnership on and off the pitch; he’s a great guy and was brilliant on the pitch and always nice to have next to me.

“But that’s why I like the other two (Lewin Nyatanga and Marc Roberts) as well. They have got that experience, not necessarily in football, but in age and life in general.

“We are all a good fit and I am more than comfortable playing with any of them.”

The sight of Doncaster this afternoon will provide an unwelcome rewind to those sorry days of autumn for Mawson and his team-mates with an unlucky 2-1 loss at the Keepmoat in early October proving the catalyst for a desperate run of eight successive league reverses, equalling an unwanted club record.

Barnsley have travelled a long way since – far in excess of the 15 miles or so between Oakwell and the Keepmoat – although Mawson admits that payback for the Reds against their neighbours would not go amiss.

He added: “In the last game, we definitely felt we deserved at least a point. But, unfortunately, we didn’t (get it) and we got pipped right at the end and that was the way things were going then.

“In those games in that run, we were in the same boat, to be honest. We played so well, but just couldn’t get a goal or would let a silly one in. Our opponents would have two shots and score one and we’d have 20 and not convert a chance to save our lives.

“Now things are coming together and we definitely owe them (Doncaster) one, especially in the way they did it with a deep-lying runner putting one in the net in the last few minutes.

“But that’s football. It’s done, you can’t change it and all we can do is affect what happens on Saturday.”