Family tragedy drives on Owls' Barry Bannan as he prepares for Aston Villa return

IT has been an emotionally-charged week for Sheffield Wednesday midfield player Barry Bannan.

ON THE BALL: Sheffield Wednesdays Barry Bannan challenging Burton Albions Kyle McFadzean at Hillsborough. Picture: Steve Ellis

The 27-year-old, back to his best in the Owls’ exhilarating 5-1 weekend routing of Norwich City, was clearly also a man on a mission in the 1-1 midweek Championship draw with Burton Albion.

A hive of industry and one of Wednesday’s more effervescent players over the course of 90, ultimately frustrating, minutes from a team perspective, Bannan revealed he had drawn upon extra motivation.

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The death of a family member on Sunday in his native Scotland affected the Airdrie-born player in the build-up to Tuesday evening’s game – and it said everything about him that he produced such a sterling performance in the circumstances.

Despite his best efforts, more especially in the first half, Bannan could not mark his relative’s passing by dedicating a goal to him, with two shots from distance flying just off target.

It may be that it is written in the stars for that to happen at the end of this week – at a place that Bannan used to call home for many years in Villa Park.

Bannan said: “I was trying my best as I had a family member who was close to me who passed away on Sunday and we are a bit down at the minute and I was trying my best to get a goal for him and that is why I had all those shots.

“It has been really tough and I am down here on my own at the minute and my mum and dad have obviously gone back up to Scotland and my sister as well.

“I have been down here on my own and it is hard because there’s no-one around for you to speak to.

“Just going out onto the pitch, I tried to put on a performance for him because I know he will have been watching over me.

“I tried my best to score, but, hopefully, I can on Saturday.”

If Bannan can manage that, it will represent a doubly sweet moment for the schemer after an association spanning the best part of a decade with Villa.

Bannan moved to the Midlands from Lanarkshire in his early teens and after being a prolific scorer for the club at youth level, he made his debut under Martin O’Neill in December, 2009 – with many luminaries tipping him for greatness there.

O’Neill’s successor, Gerald Houllier, could not have placed the midfielder on a higher pedestal, famously once comparing him with Barcelona legends Xavi and Andres Iniesta, which probably afforded Bannan few favours in hindsight, though he has earned 24 caps with Scotland.

Hard reality ultimately bit for Villa and Bannan, with the fortunes of the club starting to unravel after some early seasons in the sun under Randy Lerner, with the play-maker one of a number of young players who were, unfortunately, part of the collateral damage.

It remains to be seen what reception Bannan receives at Villa on Saturday, after being booed by Holte Enders on his previous visit there with Crystal Palace on New Year’s Day, 2015.

But despite a bitter-sweet spell in the second city, Villa is a club which will always mean a lot to Bannan, who joined the Owls in August, 2015.

He said: “I don’t know what kind of reception I will get, to be honest. But I will be looking forward to it and trying to get the three points for Sheffield Wednesday.

“I think a lot of the fans who boo me on Saturday won’t realise that I actually support Aston Villa because I was there since I was 13 to 23 probably. They are one of my English teams, to be honest, and, hopefully, they will take it easy on me.

“That club has brought me to where I am and I owe them a lot. But, obviously on Saturday, I will be trying my best for Sheffield Wednesday.”

Ahead of the first ball being kicked in August, Wednesday’s trip to Villa Park had the ring of a promotion ‘six-pointer’, but fates have not panned out that way.

The visitors may have been in the top-six picture all season, but Villa have languished in mid-table obscurity and are effectively playing out time until the summer, with sixth-placed Wednesday’s needs heightened by the events of Tuesday night.

It saw a battling Burton side frustrate Carlos Carvalhal’s men and deny them three points on a night when several rivals in the Owls’ immediate vicinity also failed to win, most notably Leeds United, Reading and Fulham.

But for Bannan, developments elsewhere at least softened the blow.

He said: “It is not so much the chasing pack. We are looking up and trying to catch the teams above us and we are aiming up.

“We have just got to concentrate on ourselves and when you see the other results, it is still pretty positive for us.

“You have to give Burton credit with five at the back and they defended their penalty box very well.

“It was not for the lack of trying and we kept going to the end and kept trying to do the right things.”