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‘Who needs Barry when you’ve got Barry Bannan?’

So went the chant, as it cascaded down the Putney End stand housing the away fans at Craven Cottage at the weekend. In part this outcry from the away end can be ascribed to an inability to move on from the whole bitter Gareth Barry transfer saga of 18 months past. But to attribute it purely to this grim obsession would be to grossly underestimate the rise of Barry Bannan.

The young Scot was one of the clubs most outspoken critics of Martin O’Neill, going as far as to claim he was ‘a little bit happy’ when he heard of the Ulsterman’s departure. The reasons for this are understandable. Bannan was loaned out under O’Neill’s reign despite many fans believing he was ready for first team football. Bannan’s 2008-09 Premier Reserve League winners medal leant weight to these claims, but O’Neill was not convinced and Bannan was farmed out to the Championship.

Bannan seems determined to make the most of his chance with the first team

But Bannan excelled on loan last season for Blackpool, playing an integral part in the Tangerines promotion campaign. He made 20 appearances in midfield for Ian Holloway’s side and scored one of the Championship goals of the season with his 30 yard lob against Coventry at the Ricoh Arena in January.

It seemed, however, that Bannan was destined for another spell on loan in the Championship again this season, until O’Neill’s dramatic walk out days before the Premiership was due to kick off. Reserve team manager Kevin MacDonald, under whom Bannan won that Premier Reserve League title, was named the caretaker boss and he set about injecting some youth into the side. Marc Albrighton has been the most obvious beneficiary, but Bannan has also been given his chance.

On the opening day Bannan made his Premier League debut, coming off the bench in the final minutes as Villa ran down the clock to seal a commanding 3-0 win over West Ham. A few days later and Bannan was tormenting Rapid Vienna, scoring as Villa earnt a credible draw in Austria. In the following weeks though Bannan found his opportunites limited as Gerard Houllier was finally appointed, and the newly invigorated Nigel Reo-Coker re-claimed his place in the side after a similar spell in exile under O’Neill. With the injury to club captain Stylian Petrov, and young Ciaran Clark relegated to the bench following his deployment to break up play against Birmingham, Bannan was given a start at the weekend against Fulham and he excelled with a man of the match performance.

Bannan’s stunning assist for Albrighton’s goal deserves high praise (though seemingly not from the Match of the Day team), but his confidence on the ball and sheer range of passing highlight what a player he is becoming. Whether Bannan can consistently play at this level in the Premier League is the next question he will have to answer, but Gerard Houllier is is no doubt, telling the press that Bannan has ‘got the attributes of a modern footballer – skill, movement, the eye for a pass’. International recognition it seems is also not far away as Scotland look to reshuffle their pack following a poor start to their 2012 European Championship qualifying campaign.

Following caps at under 21 and B team level, a full international call up can’t be far away

Personally Bannan reminds me of Paul Scholes, small in size but always involved in the action, buzzing around the pitch always looking to create, never shy to receive the ball. If Bannan can continue to progress then the Aston Villa fans will be singing his name for a long time to come.

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