TONY Mowbray has described Richie Smallwood as Rovers’ ‘anchor’ ahead of his return to former club Rotherham United.

Rovers moved to sign Smallwood in the summer after his three-and-a-half year stay at the New York Stadium came to an end, and he has been an ever present in the middle of midfield since.

That has been quite a feat for the 27-year-old with Rovers having experienced Championship campaigner Peter Whittingham and Northern Ireland international Corry Evans in their ranks.

Instead, it has been one of Whittingham or Evans partnering Smallwood, while Willem Tomlinson has forced himself in to the reckoning of late.

The tough-tackling Smallwood has become a hit with the Rovers fans and his performances have merited his run in the team, according to Mowbray.

He explained: “I think Peter Whittingham, Corry Evans, Willem, Rekeem allied to Richie Smallwood who seems to be the anchor in there, there’s that competition and they all have to strive to force their way in.

“The way I see football that’s what you have to do.

“Ultimately it comes down to trust and getting the job done.

“Some footballers manage to do that and cement their name on the sheet week in week out through their performance levels.

“Others have found it more difficult but great credit to Richie Smallwood that he’s managed to cement himself in the team, not because I think he has to play every week other than his performance levels have dictated he’s played the next one.”

Willem Tomlinson has forced his way in to the picture, being preferred to West Brom loanee Rekeem Harper for the Boxing Day game with Rochdale and Saturday’s ... against Scunthorpe.

Of whether 20-year-old Tomlinson had jumped above Harper in the pecking order, Mowbray said: “I think it was only circumstance that allowed him to get an opportunity.

“Rekeem got himself sent off and Willem gave a very mature performance in the game when his opportunity came.

“That’s football, that’s life, that’s competition and it can change very quickly.

“We will assess that, I think competition in that area has got to remain strong.”