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Jamaican retreat sees Johnson fit and firing once again

Jermaine Johnson has revealed the secret behind his surprise return from injury, a trip back home to see his family in Jamaica.

The 31-year-old winger was ruled out for two months when he injured his knee at Chesterfield last month and feared the worst on two fronts.

Firstly, he was Wednesday’s stand-out player under Gary Megson, enjoying the best football of his career as the Owls chased automatic promotion from League One.

But with his contract due to expire this summer, the Kingston-born midfielder knew a two-month absence could end his season and jeopardise his hopes of a new contract.

Added to that the change in management, Megson’s sacking making way for Dave Jones, and Johnson knew his career was coming to a crossroads.

But after being told to rest after damaging his knee ligaments, the former Bradford City winger was given permission to head home to his native Jamaica for a 10-day family reunion.

“The sun in Jamaica, it helped me big time,” Johnson told the Yorkshire Post after we caught up with him at the club’s Middlewood Road training ground.

“I think seeing my family back in Jamaica helped me a bit. I was there for 10 days, it was good.

“When I was in Jamaica I didn’t feel in such pain, like the week before I went, I wasn’t feeling any pain at all.

“I thought I would just try some running, and see how it felt. It was good to come back.”

He was a surprise inclusion as a substitute for the 2-2 home draw with Walsall 10 days ago, before starting in the 1-0 win at Leyton Orient on Saturday.

And while he is the first to admit he is not fully fit, he is prepared to put his body on the line as Wednesday battle with Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United for automatic promotion to the Championship.

“I’m not fully fit, I am having problems with my ankles too, but everyone wants to get in the starting team as we look to go up automatically.

“When you are not fully fit you do lose a bit of pace from when you were before, but you just have to keep your focus and your mind on the prize.

“At Chesterfield, I was literally in tears because I knew I was doing well, only to then get injured. I heard I could have been out for two months and thinking that was the end of the season for me. It was a bit hard to take.

“It feel really good to be playing again now, I just need to keep my fitness up and keep working hard, hopefully getting the goals for the team.”

Johnson has suffered with injuries this season, but under Megson was starting to show the consistency which has often been missing in his five years at Hillsborough, where he has totted up over 150 appearances.

He said: “It’s been up and down for me this season, I was injured at the start, came back, got injured then went on a good run only to get injured again.

“I think I have done well when I have been playing. I am still not fully fit, I probably have another two weeks to go with my knee, but I came back before time, which is good.

“There is an opportunity now to get in the team and do really well, because I was doing well before this latest injury.

“I was keeping fit, so I just need to remain positive.”

Johnson’s predicted long-term lay-off prompted former Owls boss Megson to bring in Michail Antonio on loan from Reading.

Both players are similar in stature, have electric pace but can frustrate with their final ball. They are, however, a major headache to defend against – as was shown at Orient last week when the pair were picked together for the first time on opposite flanks.

Antonio has been a revelation since making his debut in the Steel City derby at Hillsborough, scoring three goals and not featuring on the losing side in a seven-game unbeaten streak. Johnson is a fan.

“I am really impressed with Michail (Antonio), I think I have good competition trying to get a place with him,” he said. “But for me he is a really good player.”

Asked who was the quickest, Johnson replied: “You don’t have to ask that, man.

“But I was really surprised when I saw him play, I was really impressed.”

Both seem likely to start in today’s 12.45pm kick-off with Preston North End at Hillsborough – the first of three successive lunch-time kick-offs for the Owls – and Johnson expects a tough battle.

“Every team that comes to play against Wednesday, it’s like a cup game for them, so they always come and try to lock the gates,” said Johnson, who first played in England with Bolton Wanderers back in 2001. “It will be a hard game again.”

Manager Jones, of course, is no stranger to Johnson.

The winger’s goal denied his Cardiff City team a place in the Championship three years ago, as the Bluebirds’ 1-0 defeat at Hillsborough on the final day of the season saw them crash out of the top six to make way for Burnley and Preston.

Twelve months later Johnson was on the scoresheet again in Cardiff on the penultimate day of the season, but this time Jones’s team ran out 3-2 winners to nudge Wednesday towards relegation, which was confirmed a week later against Crystal Palace. Johnson wants to finish his playing days at Hillsborough, before returning to Jamaica, and despite dropping down to League One two years ago still harbours ambitions of bringing Premier League football back to S6.

“When I first came to the club we had a chance to go forward but it didn’t happen for us, but this season it really looks positive for us that we can go up.

“Sheffield Wednesday is the only place I see myself, until I go back to Jamaica.

“I want to play in the Premier League, with Wednesday if possible. But I just have to keep working and see if I can get a new contract. My contract is up in the summer.

“We haven’t started speaking yet, but I am just staying positive and playing like it’s my last game.”

A diamond ear-ring to match the sparkle in his eye, Johnson cannot resist another smile as he jokes: “I’m going to get my agent to talk to him (Dave Jones), to pressure him and see if I can get a new contract.”

Owls fans will be hoping he does enough in the remaining seven games to justify a new deal and along the way earn promotion for the blue and white half of his adopted city.

richard.hercock@ypn.co.uk

 

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