‘Underdog’ Sheffield Wednesday can buck play-off trend

Sheffield Wednesday's Barry Bannan celebrates his goal with Marco Matias at Derby.
Sheffield Wednesday's Barry Bannan celebrates his goal with Marco Matias at Derby.
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Barry Bannan knows from personal experience the underdog can have their day when it comes to the Championship play-offs.

The Scotland international was part of Ian Holloway’s Blackpool team that squeezed into the top six in 2009-10, before winning promotion to the Premier League.

They are the only team in Championship history, over the last decade, who have achieved such a feat.

Six times in the last 10 seasons, the side who finished third won promotion via the play-offs.

So with his current side, Sheffield Wednesday, finishing in sixth spot – and tagged by their head coach Carlos Carvalhal as the “underdogs” and “outsiders” in the play-offs – it would be easy to write off their chances.

Tell that to Bannan, or the 30,000-plus who will pack into Hillsborough on Friday night for the semi-final first leg against Brighton and Hove Albion, though, and you will get short shrift.

“It is pretty similar to this situation,” said Bannan, in reference to Blackpool’s promotion in 2010, clinched by a 3-2 play-off final win over Cardiff.

“We just scraped in with Blackpool. We had a late run and charge and ended up finishing sixth.

“Anybody can win the play-offs and we were the underdogs, but ended up winning it.

“We beat Forest 4-3 away from home after winning 2-1 at home and won the final 3-2. It was unbelievable.”

Blackpool ended that season on 70 points – four fewer than Wednesday’s tally of 74 this term – and were nine points behind third-placed Forest.

The Seasiders opened up with a 2-1 win over Forest, before a memorable 4-3 victory at the City Ground.

Goals from Charlie Adam, Gary Taylor-Fletcher and Brett Ormerod secured victory over Cardiff.

Apart from Blackpool, you have to delve back 11 seasons to 2004-05 when West Ham United came up via the play-offs after finishing sixth.

Sheffield United finished third in 2008-09, but were beaten in the final by Burnley – who finished fifth – to show the form book is not always correct. Teams who have finished third in the Championship – Watford (2005-06), Derby (2006-07), Hull City (2007-08), Swansea City (2010-11), West Ham (2011-12) and Norwich City (2014-15) – won promotion in six of the last 10 seasons.

QPR went up in 2013-14 after coming fourth, while Leicester City (2012-13) and Burnley (2008-09) battled to promotion after finishing fifth.

Wednesday and Brighton have not scored against each other in 180 minutes of Championship football this season, both games ending 0-0.

That suggests goals will be scarce in the play-offs, and Bannan knows Wednesday must make home advantage count at Hillsborough on Friday before the return leg on the south coast next Monday.

“There are four top, top teams and any of us can go up,” said Bannan. “But we know what we have got in the changing room and we have as good a chance as anybody.

“We finished bottom of the four sides, but we are confident.

“I don’t think (being at home first) it’s an advantage because we have got to do the business over two legs.

“But it will be hard for anyone to come to our place at the moment with the way we are playing.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere and spurs you on that little bit extra. Hopefully we can get the result.

“The Premier League is the best league in the world. The Spanish league might have better quality, but the Premier League is where everybody wants to be.

“Everybody in our changing room wants to be in there and we have given ourselves a great chance.

“We just need to stay focused and hopefully we can get there this season.”

Bannan took a gamble by leaving the Premier League at Crystal Palace to join the Owls last summer.

It has not been a great season for his former clubs, Aston Villa, Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers all suffered relegation.

But Bannan has been outstanding at Wednesday, the 26-year-old fully deserving of his place in the PFA Championship team of the season.

So could this season have gone any better?

“Definitely not. I don’t think so,” said Bannan.

“It came to a time in my career where either you go and do something big this year or you are going to end up falling away.

“It has been a big season for me and luckily I have performed week in, week out.

“It wasn’t a tough decision to come here as I needed to come and play football.

“I needed to play week in, week out as it was getting to the point where either you do it or don’t.

“Luckily I’ve done well this season and hopefully I can do well for a few more years to come.

“It was an easy decision but I didn’t know I was going to play here. I had to prove myself.”