Barry Bannan's return boosts Sheffield Wednesday ahead of Middlesbrough showdown
Sheffield Wednesday's midfield options are boosted by the return of Barry Bannan ahead of the trip to promotion-chasing Middlesbrough.
Bannan is pushing for a start, having completed a two-match suspension for picking up 10 yellow cards.
The 29-year-old has been one of the first names on the teamsheet this season. Bannan, who signed a new long-term contract back in August,Â has started 20 of the Owls' 23 fixtures. He has only missed three through bans.
Bannan could replace Josh Onomah in the midfield engine room as Wednesday target a first away win in over two months. The OwlsÂ have collected just one point in their last five matches away from Hillsborough. (P5 W0 D1 L4)
"You can't just talk the talk, you have got to walk the walk,' said caretaker Owls boss Lee Bullen.Â 'It's up to the players to stand up and show everybody what they are capable of (at Middlesbrough).
'The majority of the players have done that in the last two to three years and they know they are good enough to play at the top of this leagueÂ if they get round each other and show that spirit. If they show thatÂ togetherness,Â there is no reason why we can't turn things around.
"We know it is a hard slog. If it takes a couple of scrappy one nil wins to turn things around, I would happily take that.'
Bullen reckons Wednesday can take inspiration from the impressive performance they produced at Aston Villa earlier this season.
"The Villa game isÂ the type of performance and result we have to keep looking back at,' he said. 'It showed that this group of players are capable of getting that kind of result.
The Owls returned to winning ways last weekend, beating 10-man Preston Â North End thanks to a second half header by centre-half Michael Hector.
Victory moved Wednesday up to 17th spot, opening up an eight-point gap between themselves and the relegation zone.
Asked if the dreaded 'R'Â word had been mentioned prior to Wednesday's morale-boosting win over Preston, Bullen said: "I think we would be naive and wrong not to mention it.
"I talk about positivity but we have to be realistic as well.
"We don't make headlines of it. But we know and fully understand the run of form that we're on.
"We also know that it can change very quickly. All it takes is a couple of positive results."
Wednesday's squad trained on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in preparation for the trip to the Riverside Stadium.
They have a lousy recent record against Boro, losing five of the last six competitive meetings.
Middlesbrough, managed byÂ Tony Pulis, edged the last encounter, Despite a late consolation from ex-Boro man Adam Reach, second half goals from Mo Besic and Britt Assombalonga ensured Middlesbrough left S6 with maximum points.
Bullen said:Â "It was a sore one to take. We should not have lost that game.Â There have been other games this season which we should not have lost as well but we have.'
The result sparked a dramatic downturn in Wednesday's results as the Owls dropped out of the play-off positions and slipped into the lower reaches of the division.
"It is easy to say that (it was a turning point) considering the run of results we had after that but I don't think you can pinpoint any one game,' added Bullen.
Boro boast the meanest defence in the division, having conceded just 16 goals at the halfway mark. Saturday's unconvincing victory at Reading ended their four-match winless streak and lifted them up two places to fourthÂ and within six points of the automatic promotion places.
'They [Middlesbrough] are going through a tough spell at the moment,' said Bullen.
'I'm sure Tony Pulis is looking at his players and knowing they can produce a lot better.
'We know it's going to be physical and they are a hard-working team.
'But as a changing room we know the players are probably showing 60 per cent of what they can do - and that's not enough.
'When the ball comes into the box you know what's coming. It's a great game and not too far away for fans to travel.'