Doncaster Rovers v Barnsley: Alex Mowatt is aiming for a happy homecoming

Barnsley midfielder Alex Mowatt: Back home tonight.
Barnsley midfielder Alex Mowatt: Back home tonight.
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THRUST firmly back into the spotlight and returning to his home-town club for a marquee appointment tonight represents a happy rewind for Alex Mowatt.

The Barnsley midfielder emerged on the scene as a teenage talent of some repute during his breakthrough years at Leeds United – seemingly destined for big things after making his debut at the age of 18 at the Keepmoat Stadium in August, 2013.

His penchant for the spectacular and wand of a left foot was exemplified on a number of occasions, with it being a shock to most onlookers when his career abruptly stalled at Elland Road.

A move to Oakwell followed in January, 2017, but it was not the precursor to a swift upturn, with the Doncaster-born player farmed to Oxford United last season in a bid to relight his footballing fires.

As the saying goes, form may be temporary but class is permanent and Mowatt has been showing plenty of that in a outstanding season of renaissance at Oakwell.

The 24-year-old has conclusively proved one of the outstanding players in League One this season – and looks a shoo-in to be included in the divisional team of the year on PFA awards night.

Motivated, on-message and reassuringly consistent these days, Mowatt is keen to display that progress in front of family and friends tonight, having made a ‘song and dance’ about the game’s importance this week, according to Reds’ assistant Dale Tonge.

A league ever-present this term, Mowatt, whose late grandfather George played one game for Rovers in the Sixties, said: “I have been saying we need to win this game as it is my home town.

“For me, it is a bigger game than normal as a lot of friends and family will be there. I always enjoy playing against Doncaster.

“We think that Doncaster are one of the best teams we have played this season, if not the best. It will be a tough game, they like to play football and so do we.

“We are excited for the game. It is a massive game with where we are in the league and we need to keep pushing on.

“I would love to score there as it is my home town. I made my debut there and have been after an away goal. Hopefully, I can get one soon and maybe get a few more.”

On his turnaround in fortunes at Oakwell, when his career seemed to be at a potential crossroads in the summer, Mowatt –yet to score away this term after netting five home goals – added: “It has definitely been my most enjoyable season. Playing every game, you get the chance to express what you can do.

“In terms of consistency levels, I think it is the best I have played as well. I have really enjoyed it. I was not playing the best (before) and I spoke about that in the summer. I wanted this season to be a big one and, so far, it has been.”

Motivation will not be hard to find ahead of the derby encounter, with the Reds – backed by a sell-out contingent of 3,700 fans – able to temporarily move seven points clear of third-placed Sunderland with victory in tonight’s televised fixture.

But while the form of the visitors, unbeaten in 17 league matches since December 8, is superior to that of Rovers, Tonge is wary and with good reason.

Rovers were somewhat of a nemesis for Tonge in his playing days with the Reds in the Noughties, as the former full-back remembers only too well.

Famously, Doncaster were the only side to do the double over Barnsley in their 2005-06 promotion season, with a 4-0 home victory in February, 2005 being a particularly sore one to take for Tonge and his colleagues.

Reds assistant Tonge, who hails from the Dearne Valley, where pockets of Rovers fans can be found alongside the more plentiful Reds followers, said: “When I was here, I do not think I ever beat Doncaster as a player.

“I hated playing Doncaster. They just always had that one up on us, home and away. They were just one of those clubs.

“But we are looking forward to this game and know we have big numbers coming. We are eager to put on a performance for them.”

Added spice to the current fixture arrives in the fact that Barnsley face a familiar face in Rovers chief and ex-player Grant McCann, who, if circumstances had been different, could have been in the opposing dug-out, having been interviewed for the vacant Oakwell position last summer.

Tonge added: “Obviously, there was certain speculation in the summer and I have no doubt he will want to beat us for several different reasons.

“I know Grant personally from being here. He has done a fantastic job and is a great character who is honest and hard-working.

“As a player, he was quite demanding of other players and when I was here, he drove the team on quite a lot.

“It is no surprise what he is doing at Doncaster where he has got the best out of young and old players.

“I know Macca will have them up for the game.”