Former Sheffield Wednesday skipper Lee Bullen's message to Barry Bannan as Owls prepare for Sunderland play-off semi-final clash

Lee Bullen is a man who speaks from experience when it comes to a lot of things at Sheffield Wednesday.

Thursday, 5th May 2022, 5:14 pm

And as captain of an Owls play-off winning team he knows how current skipper Barry Bannan will be feeling this week – taking away the concerns about the midfielder’s fitness – as Wednesday prepare for a double-header against Sunderland for the right to a final spot at Wembley.

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To Bullen, and to many people with an eye on League One, Bannan is crucial and the key component in Darren Moore’s side’s attempts to get back into the Championship at the first attempt following last season’s relegation.

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Former Sheffield Wednedday captain Lee Bullen and current skipper Barry Bannan.....Pic Steve Ellis

So when there was uncertainty in the summer as to were the 32-year-old's future lay, after that drop down to a division he is very clearly better than, Bullen offered some advice that is now potentially three games from coming true.

The mantra was simple… make yourself a Hillsborough hero forever.

THE TALISMAN

Sam Hutchinson has been earmarked by Lee Bullen as another crucial player in Sheffield Wednesday's side ahead of their play-off semi-final with Sunderland

"Bannan is massive, he's the talisman,” said the former Owls coach and three-time interim boss, now managing successfuly in his native Scotand with Ayr United.

"He's the best player I ever worked with, honestly. At the beginning of the season we had a small group of supporters who seemed to think he had been here too long. I don't get it. I know Scott Twine got League One Player of the Year but without doubt, you ask any manager if there's one player in this league that they would love to have it would be Barry Bannan.

"He's walked the walk all season. Some of the goals he's scored and assists, just his overall attitude... The fact that he re-signed his contract, when he knew the team was going down. A part of that may have been if he signs it and a club comes in then the club [Wednesday] is financially rewarded.

"I spoke to him at the beginning of the season and asked him what was happening and he said he knew there was interest but anything needed to be right for his family. I said, 'if you do decide to stay and I hope you do, from experience, if you captain this club to promotion, you will never have to buy a drink in Sheffield again.'

"You've been at Wembley and part of that group that lost that game but you weren't captain. You do it this season, with that armband on... he is 20-times the player I was but to do that, that's history books stuff... that can't be deleted.”

SPINE OF THE TEAM WILL BE KEY FOR WEDNESDAY

Owls fans will be praying that at 6.45pm on Friday evening when the teams are revealed, Bannan’s name will be on the list.

Outside of his fellow countryman, however, Bullen looks right through the middle of the team for those who he feels will have the biggest say in whether Wednesday are able to see their way past the Black Cats at the Stadium of Light.

"It's the spine of your team,” he adds. “Your goalkeeper [Bailey Peacock-Farrell], he's played in the Premier League, I know he's young but he's played very well.

"You need Sam Hutchinson, he's been involved in Champions League games, Premier League games, everything like that. He's been at the club for so long, he understands exactly what's what.

"Massimo [Luongo] ... great experience at international level. Never seems flustered. Baz, without any doubts and then Lee Gregory.

“That's what's going to win us these games.”

BULLEN’S PLAY-OFF EXPERIENCE

Back in 2005, Bullen led what he described as something of a rag-tag bunch to play-off glory in Cardiff having beaten Brentford over two legs in the semi-finals before seeing off Hartlepool in the Millennium Stadium.

He believes this team is very different to that he famously played in, but the nervousness and the pressures of playing in front of an expectant crowd remain the same nonetheless.

"Probably the 15-20 minutes after the warm-up and you get back into the dressing room, that maybe when you start feeling the butterflies,” he says. “That was the case for me anyway.

"Before that, looking back to [the 2005 final in] Cardiff or even [the semi-finals] against Brentford I was just desperate for the games to start.

"I know we weren't in the best of form but I did believe we were set to do it. We had such a team spirit - we were waifs and strays and would-bes and never-have-beens, League One, League Two players, ex-Scottish League players... as individuals we probably weren't a top six team but as a group what was built was phenomenal. It was just a feeling that we've got this on tap, definitely.

"There seems to be a bit of that in this group too. You look at bits and pieces on social media and they have a lot of respect for each other and support from everybody within the squad. They have much better individuals than we had.”

And will they do it?

"There's such confidence in the team,” he said, having admitted to still watching every match – or at least the highlights – online and making a few trips back to Hillsborough to watch a team he still refers to as ‘we’.

“They go a goal down [against Portsmouth in the final game] within five or six minutes, but there's no fear, no fear in that group.

"There's a trust, a real bonding team spirit that Darren seems to have created in there and I don't see any reason why they can't take care of business at the end of the season. But, it's one hell of a semi-final.”