Benin international Reda Johnson is the man capable of lifting the gloom threatening to engulf Hillsborough, according to Sheffield Wednesday development squad head coach Lee Bullen.
Johnson, who came on a second-half substitute in the draw at Leeds United last weekend, continued his comeback from injury yesterday in the Owls Under-21s encounter with Coventry City.
The left-sided defender played 62 minutes as a strong Wednesday side, featuring Rhys McCabe, Rafael Floro, Paul Corry and Jacques Maghoma, twice came from behind to win 3-2 thanks to goals from Caolan Lavery (2) and McCabe.
Johnson missed all of the club’s summer friendlies and the first three matches of the 2013/14 campaign because of a fresh ankle problem. His appearance in the Yorkshire derby at Elland Road was the 25-year-old’s first outing since mid-April.
Injuries restricted Johnson to just 17 appearances last term as Dave Jones men retained their Championship status.
He hurt his ankle just before he was taken off yesterday but Bullen is confident he will be fit for selection for Saturday’s home engagement with lowly Millwall. Bullen said he always planned on taking Johnson off after an hour.
“I signalled for Reda to come off but he didn’t want to and that’s the type of player he is,” he told The Star. “Reda just wants to play football.
“He knows he is behind with his fitness and he wants to get back up to speed as quickly as possible so he can play a part in the first-team.
“At the end of the day, we don’t want Reda to play at Under-21 level. We want him playing in the first-team week in, week out.
“He’s not up to scratch yet but he’s sort of person where his adrenaline will get him through games. If he gets thrown in, he will give you everything. He never gives you anything less than 100 per cent.”
Johnson is now looking to emulate fellow Owls full-back Lewis Buxton, who started at Leeds for the first time this campaign following an injury lay-off. Wednesday are still searching for their first win after three defeats from their opening four fixtures in all competitions.
Bullen conceded: “It was great to have Reda and Lewis fit again at Leeds. Reda, in my opinion, won’t be far away from starting on Saturday but it is the manager’s decision. He is quite a talismanic character around the place and I think the fans love to see him in that blue and white strip, especially down here at Hillsborough.”
The Owls, missing several defenders through injury, including Joe Mattock and Kieran Lee, have yet to keep a clean sheet this term. But with Johnson and Buxton edging closer to full fitness, Bullen expects to the team to become harder to break down over the coming weeks.
The former Wednesday centre-back said: “You look at our back five in Chris Kirkland, Lewis, Kamil (Zayatte), Anthony (Gardner) and Reda then there is not going to be much stronger in this league if you’ve got those five fit. It is a big platform to build the rest of your team around.”