Barry Bannan hopes the arrival of new boss Garry Monk can finally realise his ambition of playing in the Premier League with Sheffield Wednesday.
The Scottish international midfielder has twice gone close to promotion from the Championship with the Owls, losing in the play-offs on each occasion.
In 2016 Wednesday lost to Hull City at Wembley in the play-off final, and 12 months later the Owls fell in the semi-finals to tomorrow’s opponents, Huddersfield Town.
The Terriers are back in the Championship after a two-year stay in the top flight.
So tomorrow’s trip to West Yorkshire will certainly bring back unhappy memories for an Owls squad, largely intact from 2017.
Bannan played in both of those games against Huddersfield, six of the starting line-up from the game at Hillsborough in 2017 are likely to feature tomorrow.
After arriving from Crystal Palace in 2015, the 29-year-old is recognised as one of the top midfielders in the Championship and is a massive fans’ favourite at S6.
“It’s been amazing,” said Bannan. “My best spell in football.
“I wanted to be in the Premier League by now, with this club.
“That hasn’t happened, but the way the fans have taken to me is unbelievable. The relationship I have with the fans is something I never thought would happen when I came here.
“It’s four years, but it has flown past. I have enjoyed every minute, but obviously I would rather be playing in the Premier League.
“I still have aspirations to do that, and hopefully that can happen this year.
“When I signed my last contract, I have three more years, so hopefully I can achieve promotion this year.
“I don’t want to leave or retire without getting this club to where they should be. Hopefully with the new manager coming in we can get there this season.”
While Bannan has played down the significance of facing Huddersfield again tomorrow, on what will be the midfielder’s 150th league start for Wednesday – “Sunday is just another game” – it was the beginning of the end for former boss Carlos Carvalhal after two promotion misses.
After drawing 0-0 at Town, Wednesday took the lead in the second leg at Hillsborough through Steven Fletcher.
But they failed to capitalise on their chances, and conceded an equaliser after Tom Lees netted an own goal.
Town won the subsequent penalty shoot-out, before beating Reading at Wembley.
“They went on to get promoted that year,” recalled Bannan. “But when you look back to that game (at Hillsborough) it was probably a 20-minute spell. We nearly scored to make it 2-0, that would have killed the game and it could have been us (going to Wembley).
“But fair play to them, they went on and had to win the final too. They went on to play in the Premier League, and that’s what we want to do.
“But there’s no point looking back at that, Sunday is just another game.”
Tomorrow is Monk’s first game in charge – after Lee Bullen kept the manager’s seat warm, following Steve Bruce’s summer exit – and he faces another new boss, in Town’s Danny Cowley.
Bannan is just relieved the managerial situation has been sorted, as the Owls look to build on a mixed start of three wins and three defeats from the opening month of the campaign.
“It’s good to know we have a boss and who is in charge,” said Bannan, now under his fifth manager in four years. “The last 10 days have been really good.
“As you can imagine everyone is chomping at the bit in training, everybody knows it’s a fresh start for us all. The gaffer has been getting his points over, how he wants us to play this season.
“It may take a month or two, but it’s been good, something different.
“The biggest thing is it is now very clear, we all have specific jobs. It clears up any grey areas. As players there is a blame culture, so you can blame other people.
“With the new manager coming in, we all know our jobs, defensively, and offensively. That’s the biggest thing I have noticed. We know exactly what our jobs are.
“With everything that went on previously, it was easy to make excuses. But he has come in straightaway and put his own stamp on it.”
So has Bannan’s midfield role changed?
“I don’t know if I am playing yet,” smiled the Scot. “My role is a bit different, but not majorly. As a player I try to make things happen, and I will still do that.
“Bully did a great job, stepping in and taking over for that month and a bit. But you just want clarity in football.
“It was hard because we didn’t know what was happening, who was going to be the manager.
“Sometimes you just need that clarity, to know who the manager is.
“It’s a fresh start, he will come in with different ideas and might like different players.
“It’s good for the squad, and it came at the right time with the international break, so he has a bit of time to work with the squad.”