Mark Hughes has revealed that highly-rated prospect Michael Johnson must be prepared to play in pain when he is finally able to step back from his six-month struggle to overcome a mystery pelvic and groin injury.
Midfielder Johnson, considered one of the best products of the Blues Academy in recent years, has suffered a miserable season since he last played in the Carling Cup tie at Brighton on September 24th last year.
The popular 21-year-old local lad is back in training and hoping for a first-team return before the end of the season, but manager Hughes admits he will need to come to terms with the lasting effects of his frustrating injury.
The City boss explained: "He's had an imbalance in the hips and groin, and in these cases your body tries to compensate for a weakness and that causes problems elsewhere. It's a vicious circle, and it took us a long time to understand what was causing the problem.
"We are trying to address that and we are very close to him being pain-free now. But players will always have to play with some level of pain. I think that's accepted by most professional players.
"He has got to the point now where he is comfortable with the pain that he will work with. It is a case of getting into the rhythm of training on a regular basis leading into games - that's what he needs from now to the end of the year."
Hughes has sympathised deeply with Johnson's plight as he inched his way back towards fitness. He said: "He's had that frustrating kind of injury that young players sometimes find difficult to cope with - they just want to play games.
"When you are not allowed to do that because of injury it can be very frustrating, but we are hopeful now that Michael will be involved before the end of the season."
Frustration has also been the name of the game for Martin Petrov - and Hughes admits that with Johnson and the Bulgaria winger as options this season, "we'd almost certainly have won more games, that's a given".
Petrov, who has not figured since August, is now pushing for a return and the Blues boss said: "It's the quality he gives you not just in an attacking sense but his delivery as well. Just in a few training sessions he's reminded us of his ability and the quality he can produce.
"We're just happy to have him back, and it's likely he will make an impact for us between now and the end of the season."