Bannan on Sheff Wed rebuilding in L1 and promotion hopes
Barry Bannan takes some time to reflect on what has been a mixed season so far at Sheffield Wednesday.
The Owls were one of the favourites for the title following their relegation from the Championship last year, but endured a slowish start to life in League One – with their position hampered by too many draws in the first half of the season.
Things have picked since the turn of the year, however, and they now find themselves in the top six heading into the run-in.
“We were a new team at the start of the season trying to get partnerships in and around the pitch and still learning each other’s games,” Bannan tells Sky Sports after winning the Sky Bet League One Player of the Month award for March.
“As the season has gone on we’ve started to create little connections here and there. We’ve been unlucky with injuries, but nearly everyone is back now and getting people off the treatment table has played a massive part in our picking up of results.”
The reason, perhaps in part, for the slowish start was due to the sweeping changes made by Darren Moore to the squad in the summer. It was a squad that had badly needed freshening up and turning around for a good few years.
Bannan also believes the size of Wednesday has made them a target for some of the smaller teams in the third tier.
“The difference here is we’re seen as one of the biggest teams in the league, if not the biggest, and everyone wants to come and beat Sheffield Wednesday,” he says. “It’s been tough in that respect, but we’ve had to overcome it, and as the season has worn on we’ve started getting better at that, and we’ve gotten more used to it.
“I guess it’s similar to when I was playing in the Premier League and we went to the likes of Old Trafford or the Emirates. You tend to raise your game a bit because you’re playing the best in the league and you want to show what you can do.
“It’s the same as when teams come here to Hillsborough. The atmosphere is amazing and it’s such a big stadium. Some teams can buckle, but others raise their game because they want to show what they can do in a big arena.”
Whether Wednesday are the biggest club or not in League One is a matter of debate. The division has emerged as something of a who’s who of sleeping giants and former Premier League clubs – with Sunderland, Ipswich, Portsmouth and Bolton all queued up in the top half of the table.
It has made for a fascinating tussle.
“It’s such a strong league this year if you look at who is in there,” says Bannan. “I remember speaking to Harlee Dean who came to us from the Championship and he said that the Championship has probably got a bit worse recently and League One has got a bit better, because there are teams who shouldn’t be down there based on their squad and stature.
“The quality hasn’t shocked me at all. I saw the transfers done in the summer and saw some of the big-name signings for big clubs around us, so I knew it was going to be tough.
“But it would be pretty boring if you were romping away with the league. It’s good if it’s competitive, it makes it more exciting and there’s still a lot to play for.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position and it’s in our own hands now. We’ve got plenty to do going forward, which will decide where we finish.
“The only thing that matters is where we end up, because that’s what we’ll be judged on. If we don’t go up there is no doubt it’ll be a failure in my eyes. But it’s up to us and it’s something we’re capable of doing as a team.”
Bannan also reserves praise for boss Darren Moore, who could not halt their slide to relegation last season, but has worked hard to refresh and revitalise a club that had suffered multiple years of decline.
Even with a club as big as Wednesday, bouncing back at the first time of asking is no mean feat. Following their last relegation to League One in 2010, they finished 15th in their first season.
“He’s done really well,” says Bannan. “When we got relegated the connection with the fans wasn’t as good as it is now. Performances on the pitch have helped that, because that’s how you get fans onside.
“They are starting to see a new team now that the gaffer has assembled. The culture has changed as well, there’s more togetherness in the training ground, and I know that because I’ve been here for six or seven years.
“The gaffer has played a massive part in that. He’s got us all together and made us one big family, and that’s what helps us through the bad patches. It is down to him and how he wants to do things. He’s done a terrific job.”
Bannan joined Wednesday in 2015, and is now very much the senior statesman at the club at the age of 32.
Undoubtedly the Scotsman still possesses the quality to play at Championship level at the very least, but his bond with the Owls meant he signed on to stay in League One and help, as captain, lead the club back to where he feels they belong.
“As a player it’s been the best time I’ve had,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Obviously we had the relegation last year, which was a bad period, but you have those in football. The main part of my time here I’ve loved. On the pitch I’ve improved, I’ve had a couple of managers now and played in a couple of positions and seen different sides of the game.
“As a person I’ve matured on and off the pitch, in some way by working with some of the leaders we’ve had here and working under different managers I’ve learned different things.”
Loyalty has kept him at Hillsborough, but he still retains hope of getting back to the highest level one day – both domestically and internationally.
“I want to play at the top again in the Premier League,” he continues. “It looks a million miles away right now but there’s no point in playing football if you don’t aim for the stars.
“I would love to get there with Sheffield Wednesday and we are pointing back in the right direction. I’d also like to play for Scotland again, and I want stop trying for that until the day I retire.
“It would mean the world to me. It would be my biggest achievement as of yet. I’ve got such a tight bond with this club, and it’s my aim to try and get them back to the Championship.
“I won’t stop trying to get us there.”