The news has come through that Reda Johnson will now miss the rest of the season with a serious hamstring injury. After 17 league appearances in a row, the thought that Reda was at any moment susceptible to injury was fading away, until it returned more emphatically then ever.
The debate over what precisely Reda Johnson brings to the team can be more complex than it seems. We tell ourselves that Reda is this dominant centre-back who provides a one-man defensive blockade, a player we cannot cope without. Even without the injuries, there has been recklessness to his approach on and off the pitch that has raised the question of whether we’d have been better off had we not signed him at all.
You can’t analyse the impact of Reda Johnson though without injuries being the consideration. It’s the exact reason why he ended up with Coventry City in League One and why there’s any debate over what his impact at all. Maybe it’s best to view him like it’s some kind of video game where you can only use your special power once you charge up your energy bar. Ordinarily you cannot rely on that special power, but once you’ve got it, it completely changes the game.
The ‘special power’ that Reda Johnson provided last season was that he turned an entirely turgid side that was in danger of relegation into one capable of edging their way to important wins. The arrivals of Romain Vincelot and Sam Ricketts along with the improving Aaron Martin, Chris Stokes and Reice Charles-Cook have made us a better defensive unit overall. In the side this season, Reda has been akin to a missile defence system, stopping danger before danger can be spotted.
Reda Johnson is not only dominant physically but he’s character gives him a force of personality that doesn’t just win one-on-one battles but it can cut off the hope of an opposing strike force. That force of personality has at times contributed to a weakness in his game, an impulsiveness to charge out for balls he only has a small chance of winning which leaves gaps behind him. It was more a problem last season when we didn’t have a Romain Vincelot or Sam Ricketts to slot into the space left behind, but it does hint at another reason why Reda’s career hasn’t been what it could have been.
Reda has looked like a much better player this season because our defence is playing much better. Chris Stokes and Aaron Martin in particular are looking like much better players and you have to credit that to the work that Tony Mowbray has been doing on the training pitch. As Tuesday night’s clean sheet against Rochdale demonstrated, we’re more than capable of coping without Reda Johnson.
With Jordan Willis returning to fitness within the next few weeks, there may not even be a need to sign another defender to take Reda Johnson’s place in the team. It’s a sign of the progress we’ve made under Tony Mowbray that not bringing someone in immediately to replace him is even a consideration.