There will be two familiar figures facing off against Aston Villa this weekend – both of whom have provided a mixed bag of memories to the travelling fans.
Words by Sunil Patnaik
Edited by Regan Foy (@FindFoy)
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As most eyes will be fixated on Aintree this weekend, the big sporting event for Aston Villa fans will be at Hillsborough, and they will be hoping the hurdle of Sheffield Wednesday can be overcome – and the quest for the play-offs gets another step closer to it’s conclusion.
Villa enter the fixture in fine form, hoping for another win to make it six in a row – and whilst not in the same scintillating form, the Owls will be hoping for a win to keep their chances of a top six finish alive.
Both teams still clearly have a lot to play for, and this pairing of two of English footballs elder statesmen also re-unites Aston Villa with some familiar faces.
Firstly, former manager Steve Bruce faces his old club for the first time. Cast your mind back to the 2nd of October, 2018, and the match against Preston. With one win in nine, fans thought that this was a forgone conclusion and we’d win against a team languishing near the bottom of the league. Despite the night starting on an unsavoury note courtesy of a cabbage, Villa started brightly and went in at half time with a 2-0 lead.
The second half however, was an entirely different story as Aston Villa were reduced to ten men, squandered their lead and required a 91st minute equaliser for a share of the spoils. Glenn Whelan’s 95th minute spot-kick miss was greeted with a chorus of booing and chants for Bruce’s tenure to end. This ultimately proved to be the last straw for the manager, who was dismissed the following day.
His appointment back in 2016 was thought to be a sound footballing decision as Bruce had a proven track record of getting teams promoted from the championship having achieved this on four occasions previously. A fifth with Villa came so close but ultimately ended in failure with a disappointing showing in the play off final defeat against Fulham in 2018. His record at Villa boasted a win ratio of 45% with 46 wins out of 102 matches, but the football was less then entertaining with the term “Bruce Ball” being branded about Villa Park.
Some fans simply never took to him – but it was ultimately poor results, the less than entertaining performances and a certain cabbage brought Steve Bruce’s reign to an end.
Four months later, and Steve Bruce found himself at the helm of Sheffield Wednesday with the task of rejuvenating the fortunes of one of the nation’s oldest clubs and return them to the promised land of the Premier League.
His appointment was met with mixed emotion due to Bruce’s Sheffield United connections, but it was recognised that the man had a track record. His reign has started well, with the Owels unbeaten in 11 games, winning five and drawing six – which sees them currently four points outside of the top six. And Steve Bruce will be certainly hoping for a sixth win in 12 to damage the promotion hopes of his previous employers.
Another reunion comes in the form of former midfield maestro Barry Bannan. After very much being a man on the peripheral of the first team under Martin O’Neill, Bannan broke through into the side during the Houllier tenure and caught the eye with some exceptional performances – notably in a pulsating draw with Manchester United at Villa Park, and also against Fulham where he provided a sublime assist for Marc Albrighton.
But unfortunately, that was as good as it got for Barry Bannan, as a loss of form and a factory-line of managers never saw the Scotsman reach the levels, or consistency requires and he was eventually sold to Crystal Palace in 2013. 2015 saw the move to the Owls and since then he has seen a renaissance in his career. 135 appearances and counting for the Owls, Bannan is integral to a lot of how his team play and was even subject to speculation of a January return to Villa Park.
On his first return to Villa Park in the Championship, it was a losing return as Villa won 2-0 but Bannan played with a passion and dedication and also endeared himself more to the Villa Park faithful after clapping and acknowledging the Holte End at the Full Time Whistle. I’m sure Aston Villa holds a special place in Barry Bannan’s heart, but as a professional footballer I’m also sure he will be looking for a win over his former employers to boost his current teams promotion hopes.
Aston Villa boast a strong record against Sheffield Wednesday with 67 wins out of 138 matches and Hillsborough is a happy hunting ground with 7 wins out of the last 8 visits. Just like the jockeys running the national on Saturday, Villa will need to maintain focused and avoid distractions from those familiar faces if they are to pass the winning post with three points.