Gary Hooper’s goalscoring return to the Sheffield Wednesday side was greeted as a major positive for the Owls in their shattering loss to Aston Villa on Saturday.
Wednesday were on course to keep their faint hopes of gatecrashing the end-of-season play-offs alive in a tense draw with sixth-placed Villa until Albert Adomah and Tammy Abraham struck in stoppage time to send the Owls to defeat.
That left the Owls six points adrift of the top six with six games to play.
Amid all the despondency though, there was genuine delight to see Hooper back in the squad and scoring again after a 16-month injury nightmare.
Hooper last played at Hillsborough on December 26, 2017, with a succession of injuries holding the former Celtic striker back.
A hip injury was one of many ailments to blight him while he also underwent groin surgery in November.
He returned to first-team action in Wednesday’s goalless draw with Stoke City last Saturday week, and struck the opener for the Owls against Villa when he raced on to George Boyd’s low centre.
“He needed a chance like that, that’s Gary Hooper all over,” said Wednesday winger Adam Reach.
“He had 80-odd minutes and he’s improving all the time. When we can get him fully fit and putting in 90 minutes then we’ll be a very dangerous side.
“He’s been chomping at the bit to get going. Sixteen months is a helluva long time, especially for a striker, you miss scoring goals. It showed on Saturday that he didn’t take long to get back into it.
When we can get him fully fit and putting in 90 minutes then we’ll be a very dangerous side.Adam Reach on Gary Hooper
“Players are desperate to get back because it’s such a good atmosphere at the minute.
“There’s still a chance we could do something special at the end of the season.
“Whatever team we put out Tuesday against Nottingham Forest we need to give 100 per cent.
For manager Steve Bruce, having Hooper back in contention is a real boon as he looks to build a squad capable of winning promotion next season.
“It was good to see him score after six minutes,” said Bruce, of a player who is out of contract at the end of the season.
“He’s played back-to-back games now having not played since Boxing Day 2017, so it’s good to see him in and around it again.”