Richard O’Donnell has earned praise from manager Paul Warne after winning his battle to end the season as Rotherham United’s No 1 goalkeeper.
O’Donnell has traded the keeper’s jersey with Lewis Price since arriving from Bristol City in the January transfer window.
But the 28-year-old has been in goal for the relegated Millers for their last three matches and was instrumental in the club keeping their first Championship clean sheet since December as last weekend’s 1-0 triumph over Ipswich Town ended a run of 17 games without a win.
“It’s nice for Richard,” said Warne. “I think, since he’s been back in the team, he’s grown a little bit in stature.”
O’Donnell made a shaky start to his Rotherham career and, after missing games with a finger injury, was unable to dislodge Price from the starting line-up.
But he returned to the side earlier this month following Price’s aberration at Wigan Athletic. Price needlessly jumped on the back of Latics substitute Nick Powell to concede the stoppage-time free-kick which cost the Millers a point.
O’Donnell was excellent in the 2-1 Easter-Monday loss at high-flying Reading and produced key saves against Ipswich at New York Stadium to foil Danny Rowe, Brett Pitman and Dominic Samuel.
“It was a positive day for him,” said Warne.
O’Donnell is in pole position to start the Millers’ last two matches of the 2016/17 campaign, at Preston North End on Saturday and at home to Derby County the following week, with Price requiring surgery soon to cure a recurring tonsillitis issue.
Meanwhile, Warne has revealed why he left an experienced centre-half warming the bench when central defender Semi Ajayi limped out of the victory over Town.
Rather than bringing on Aimen Belaid, the manager reshuffled by introducing winger Anthony Forde and moving midfielder Will Vaulks into the heart of the back four to partner Richard Wood.
Belaid, like Wood, is left-footed, and that swung Warne’s decision.
“I knew Will could play right-sided centre-half. He’s told me enough times!” he said. “I could have brought Belaid on. I don’t know what it is about two centre-halves who are left-footers. It’s a difficult one.
“Two right-footed centre-halves look all right. Two left-footed centre-halves look strange to me.”
Youngster Alex Bray came on as a half-time substitute against the Tractor Boys and Warne has tipped the flying winger, 21, to impress next term in League One once the Millers have beefed him up in pre-season.
Bray, signed from Swansea City, is a speedy but slight figure and has already been given extra gym work to increase his strength and size.
“Alex, you can see he’s got something,” Warne said. “And he will have something next year when he’s got a bit more physicality. It’s a big step up from playing under-23s to playing Championship football.”