Birmingham City may receive a few reinforcements as they go into the hectic festive fixture programme, with club captain Damien Johnson leading the queue of players returning to action.
The midfielder came through a behind-closed-doors friendly at Wast Hills on Tuesday, a 3-2 win over Cheltenham Town. It was Johnson’s first game since the end of last season when he featured in the 4-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers at St Andrew’s.
A persistent back problem has kept him out since and he was forced to undergo surgery to correct a disc problem after he broke down in training during the pre-season tour of Austria.
But Johnson has made a remarkable recovery, thanks to a demanding fitness programme, and the game was specially arranged to give him match action.
Reserve team manager Terry Westley said Johnson could now even be considered for a place in the squad for this weekend’s summit meeting with Reading at St Andrew’s.
“The match was based around Damien Johnson with it being his first one back,” said Westley.
“He’s been training hard and he’s been working on his own with the physios’ department doing strength and conditioning work, so I was delighted he got through the whole game.”
“I spoke to Jonty yesterday and he’s had no ill effects and feels fine and it’s a great start. I would say he’s now right back in the thinking. He’s had no reoccurrence of anything, he’s feeling fit and he’s got to be in the first-team plans.”
Johnson’s return would be a big boost for Blues boss Alex McLeish, who drafted in Nigel Quashie on loan from West Ham United because of a lack of midfield cover.
Quashie has been partnering Lee Carsley in the Blues engine room but McLeish only has Mehdi Nafti and Kemy Agustien as cover.
However, Johnson’s return is unlikely to alter McLeish’s plans to bring in a more creative, attacking midfielder during the transfer window.
Striker James McPike also featured in the friendly after completing
his comeback following an operation to correct a persistent shoulder problem.
All Blues’ goals came via trialists, one known to be Harrow Borough winger Robin Shroot.
The 20-year-old impressed the watching Blues boss and has been attracting attention from other clubs, such as Derby County, Coventry City, Queens Park Rangers and Charlton Athletic.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Maik Taylor has said there is more to come from second-placed Blues, who are just one point ahead of Reading going into this Saturday’s game.
“I think we would have snapped your hand off if you had offered us the position we’re in now, with the points we’ve got, at the start of the season,” said the Northern Ireland international.
“We’re pleased with the way it’s gone, but because two other teams have also had excellent starts it may not feel as good as it should be.
“I still believe there is a lot more to come from us and we will only get stronger.
“We need to maybe take control of games for longer periods than we do.
“Every team does have spells in games, you can’t really expect to dominate for the whole time, but we do tend to blow hot and cold for 45 minutes at a time, and it’s something we are addressing.
“I think you’ve got to remember that we have been down to the bare bones recently, and we’ve had a couple of difficult games at Plymouth, where the pitch was so heavy, and Preston.
‘‘Saturday, we lost and it took the gloss off what we’ve managed (seven games unbeaten), but I still think we’re entitled to look back on the first half of the season and be pleased, knowing that we can do better as well.”