Birmingham City’s beleaguered captain Damien Johnson could miss the first six weeks of the new season, it has been revealed.
Alex McLeish’s Championship favourites completed their three-match trip to Austria on Sunday night with an impressive 2-1 victory over FC Nurnberg and have just three more games before they kick off Operation Square One at home to Sheffield United on Saturday fortnight.
They travel to Gillingham this weekend, Leicester City next Tuesday and then welcome Fulham to St Andrew’s on August 2 but must do so without their skipper whose continued back problems meant he had to return from Austria without playing.
Johnson, whose recent career has been blighted by injuries, requires surgery on the condition and will miss the next two months. That could put him out of the first eight Championship fixtures and the League Cup appointment with Wycombe Wanderers, possibly more.
“He has resisted it over the last couple of years but now it is felt that an operation is best,” said McLeish. “He will be out of action for no less than two months and we will support him 100 per cent with the op and rehab.
“Damien Johnson is our club captain but because of his injury Lee Carsley will wear the armband when the new campaign gets underway. Lee has a vast knowledge of the game and is an excellent leader.”
Carsley joined his home town club on a free transfer from Everton at the end of last term after seven seasons in the top flight. He was also just one of two players who played the whole of the victory in Salzberg, which came courtesy of goals from Garry O’Connor - after just 11 seconds - and James McFadden.
It rounded off Birmingham’s 100 per cent tour record following wins over Kirchberg and Viktoria Plzen and came against the best opponents of the week.
“Our display was a good one against a team that went down from the German Bundesliga A in very similar circumstances to how we were relegated,” the Birmingham manager said.
“They are a high standard team and although it was only a friendly what it has done is given the boys even more confidence and belief. Pre-season is not necessarily all about results, but we are very happy to have won all three games. The tour in general has been excellent.
“There’s been a great spirit amongst the players and staff and the facilities have been wonderful. It has been as good a pre-season experience as I have had in the game.
“This group of players has given total respect and application to all the work we have given them and the versatility we have is good.
“We would like to be in a position where we can keep the opposition guessing at all times. Everyone’s vision at this club needs to be to get back to the Premier League at the first attempt.”
Birmingham are joint favourites with Queens Park Rangers to do just that but they still need depth in certain areas of their squad to achieve a second promotion in two years, which is why their decision not to complete the signing of Derby County midfielder Stephen Pearson could be something of a setback.
Pearson held talks with McLeish last week and the Scotland international looked set for a £575,000 switch after agreeing personal terms but Blues have been put off by his nagging groin injury.