Tony Mowbray says Richie Smallwood is a vital part of the current Rovers side, describing him as the "catalyst" of the team.
Smallwood, who joined the club from Rotherham in June, has quickly become a favourite among Rovers fans and produced an excellent display in last weekend's 3-2 win at Peterborough.
The midfielder has been a regular in the team this season and is now just one game away from his 250th club career appearance.
Speaking ahead of the game, Mowbray says Smallwood still possesses the same qualities which caught his eye during his time as Middlesbrough manager seven years ago.
“Richie has been very important for the team," he said.
“I’ve known him since he was a boy and he’s always played the way he plays now, which is part of the reason we brought him in.
“Every successful team needs someone to lead by example and I think Richie brings a desire to win the ball and the game.
“He had an instant impact on the squad when he arrived, tackling everyone and not taking any prisoners.
“The lads quickly learned that they wanted to be picked on Richie’s team in the small-sided training games!
“For him to reach 250 career games, it’s a good landmark – he’s won a few Player of the Season awards in that time.
“Great credit to Richie – I think he felt he had to move to get his career going in terms of playing regularly. That’s a big decision for a youngster to make but it’s paid off.
“He’s done exceptionally well and hopefully he can be part of a successful run of seasons at this club, not just a few games here or there.
“I hope he’s here for a while to lead this team back up through the leagues.
“He’s a key part of how we want to play, I’d say he’s like a catalyst. Richie and Elliott Bennett are the catalysts for how we play.
“It’s important that their energy and drive lead the team on the pitch. From the middle of the pitch, Richie has those qualities.
“I’m delighted for him. He has to stay fit and keep producing the good work he’s producing at the moment."
Smallwood turns 27 at the end of the month, and Mowbray believes Richie's best years are still ahead of him.
“I’m sure he can go on and get even better," the boss added. "He’s a driven individual, he’s one of the first at the training ground every day.
“He works in the gym and training areas very early in the morning – he knows what he has to do to get to the top of the game.
“He’s from the same town as me. I like the qualities he brings, I always talk about balance in the side and he was one of the first players we tried to sign.
“He knows what he is, he plays to his strengths, and that’s very important.”