Does Barry Bannan provide Sheffield Wednesday's midfield a presence others can't offer?
With the scores jack-knifed at 0-0 in a south Yorkshire derby most generously described as ‘uninspired’, Sheffield Wednesday caretaker boss Lee Bullen turned around and reached for his big guns.
It was Rotherham United, tiring after an intense pressing game began to take its toll, who’s collective heart sank at the sight of Kadeem Harris, Barry Bannan and latterly Fernando Forestieri entering the floodlit plains.
For all his pace and direction, Harris, the doyenne of the Owls’ opening weeks of the season, huffed and puffed but blew little down. Forestieri’s cameo offered some nice touches but made little impact.
It was Barry Bannan that did the most to change the game – in Wednesday’s mind – for the better.
From his very first touch – a swinging free-kick cross set to the soundtrack of Wednesdayites’ bellowing approval of his introduction – the sense of occasion rose, the feeling that Bannan was the ideal sub, at the ideal time, apparent.
It provided perhaps Wednesday’s best chance to that point and as the Millers’ legs grew heavier, Bannan was able to take advantage, pushing the ball around as he so often does with assured calm.
This wasn’t Barry Bannan’s blistering best, far from it, but what caught the eye was his effect on the teammates around him.
Caretaker manager Lee Bullen said as much in his post-match press conference, explaining that while his charges offered the energy requested in the second half, it was only after the intervention of his countryman that calmness on the ball was added. Rotherham boss Paul Warne agreed.
With Bannan stood over set pieces, Atdhe Nuhui suddenly became a threat. Morgan Fox, buoyed by a stunning tackle that kept the Owls’ clean sheet unsoiled, bounded into the opposition half onto balls Joey Pelupessy had failed to deliver.
Massimo Luongo, a rare consistent bright spark on an evening Wednesday offered only shades of grey, suddenly had space to run into as Rotherham backed off.
And all this during a half-hour cameo where not everything went Bannan’s way. Touches were heavy, tackles were made, passes were overhit. Merely his presence, together with a formation tweak that saw them shift to a 3-5-2, built momentum that handed them the better of the games’ final quarter and that last-gasp winner.
Wednesday fans have seen this before, of course, and when the little Scot is at his best, there are few Championship players that can match him.
Time and again that sold-out away allocation fizzed with every Bannan touch. Not many footballers have that power, and even fewer live up to the responsibility that comes with it.
After last night’s derby win Sheffield Wednesday can push new boy Luongo further into the crowd of serious challengers for a place in Sheffield Wednesday’s midfield three. But for all the Australian’s energy, invention and defensive commitment over 90 minutes, it was the old sage Bannan who pushed his case furthest still.
Now seemingly fully recovered from a calf twinge that kept him out of the starting line-up against Barnsley and Millwall, its up to him to control matches as only he can.