Barnsley’s Alex Mowatt: Why I have mixed feelings over Leeds United’s promotion bid

Alex Mowatt celebrates his opening goal for Barnsley against Coventry City in March (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Alex Mowatt celebrates his opening goal for Barnsley against Coventry City in March (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
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ALEX MOWATT may profess to being happy and relieved at not being involved in the EFL play-offs – but he does possess a vested interest in Yorkshire’s forthcoming participation nevertheless.

The Barnsley midfielder will watch the action unfold on Saturday as former club Leeds United battle it out in the first instalment of what promises to be an absorbing Championship semi-final with Derby County at Pride Park.

Hometown club Doncaster Rovers then take the stage against Charlton Athletic in the first leg of their League One play-off tie at the Keepmoat Stadium on Sunday lunchtime.

Mowatt is keeping his fingers crossed for both, even if he has mixed feelings regarding the fate of Leeds, given that he would dearly like to stride out again at Elland Road in 2019-20.

Mowatt, a shining light in the Reds’ recent successful promotion, told The Yorkshire Post: “I do want to play Leeds at their place and here (at Oakwell). But I hope they do well too as I still have a lot of friends there, so if they get promoted I will be really happy for them.

“But if not, we will play them next season.

Alex Mowatt in his Leeds United days (Picture: Simon Hulme)

Alex Mowatt in his Leeds United days (Picture: Simon Hulme)

“I would also like Doncaster to get promoted as well. They were one of the best teams we have played this season, home and away. I think they have got a good chance and it would be another derby game for us too.”

That Mowatt and his team-mates can view the nerve-jangling play-offs in absolute comfort and watch others sweat it out is all power to a squad who repelled heavy-duty pressure from Portsmouth and Sunderland to fittingly claim their reward of a top-two finish.

It is a success which has been considerably sweetened for Mowatt, who afforded himself a season of rebirth at Oakwell, which has showcased the poise that persuaded the Reds to shelve out a decent six-figure fee for his services in January 2017.

A slow start to his time with the Reds, not helped by a sending-off on his debut against Wolves, was the precursor to a season-long loan at Oxford United in 2017-18 as Mowatt sought to boost his game-time levels – with the distinct impression being that this was a career which was in danger of regressing.

I do want to play Leeds at their place and here (at Oakwell). But I hope they do well too as I still have a lot of friends there.

Alex Mowatt

But while form is temporary, class has proved to be permanent, with ultimate vindication coming in the fact that the 24-year-old was named in the PFA’s League One Team of the Year alongside four of his Reds’ team-mates.

In truth, Mowatt’s name is likely to have been among one of the first on the teamsheet in that respect following an ultra-consistent league campaign in which he was an ever-present and at the epicentre of the Barnsley’s promotion crusade.

On a cathartic season, Mowatt said: “It is the best season I have ever had in terms of playing and consistency and everything. I have really enjoyed it and the icing on the cake is to get promoted.

“It was a special feeling to be in the team of the year with all the players voting for you.

“To be in with four of the other lads from Barnsley shows how well we have done this season.”

Forgiven for wondering just what would transpire last summer following Daniel Stendel’s arrival at Oakwell, Mowatt’s talent and character saw the Reds’ German head coach gravitate towards him irresistibly in those long and hard days of pre-season.

That aptitude and drive has similarly shone through from the first competitive offerings of the season, indeed right from the moment that Mowatt stepped up and masterfully produced an exemplary opening-day performance in the 4-0 routing of Oxford, where he had spent the previous season rebuilding his confidence.

Now, just over nine months on and Mowatt is back in the Championship, a level where most would say he belongs.

On his travails and subsequent renaissance, he added: “That is just football.

“Things do not always go to plan and you have to just keep working hard and this season has shown that hard work can pay off.

“I think it is difficult joining a new team in mid-season (in 2016-17).

“But credit to the boys this season as they have done really well.

“Once I have been settled, I have shown I have been a lot better.

“I am excited to go back into the Championship and play bigger teams as well. It is a better test and I think it will be a good test for us all and I think we can all play in the Championship.

“We are a young side and if we can all stay together, then I think we can do well.”