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Bruce handed boost as skipper Johnson returns

Birmingham captain Damien Johnson is set to resume training this week after missing the start of the season with a hamstring problem.

Johnson has been absent for City's opening four Premier League games after suffering the injury in a pre-season friendly at Walsall a month ago.

He was also forced to withdraw from the Northern Ireland squad for last week's Euro 2008 qualifier with Liechtenstein.

But Johnson is poised to join in with his team-mates for the first time and could come into contention to play some part in Saturday's league clash at Middlesbrough.

Blues manager Steve Bruce said: ``It has been frustrating for Jonty, especially after he missed quite a chunk of last season with his fractured jaw.

``But we expect him to step up his rehab and start training again this week.

``It will be good to have him back in contention and we were certainly short in numbers in the midfield area during the early part of the season.

``Fabrice Muamba and Mehdi Nafti ran themselves into the ground for the opening two games against Chelsea and Sunderland but, because Jonty and Johan Djourou were injured, I couldn't really change it against West Ham and it told on us.''

Defender Rafael Schmitz, signed on a season-long loan from Lille, is also set to begin training this week after being laid low with an Achilles problem.

Bruce confirmed: ``We expect Rafael to be training this week as well.''

Centre-back Martin Taylor has undergone a hernia operation and it will be another three weeks before he is back in contention for a place.