SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Owls reap the reward of club’s medical expertise

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PLAYERS, Dave Jones and Milan Mandaric have rightly taken plaudits for the Owls’ promotion.

But the physiotherapy and medical department have played their part as well, a club review shows.

Wednesday’s record in keeping players fit and nursing players back after injuries is believed to be the best in the country. There were also some remarkable recoveries, for example Nicky Weaver and Jermaine Johnson made comebacks ahead of schedule.

And the diagnosis and management of the shoulder problem suffered by Michail Antonio made sure he was able to stay on the field against Carlisle and score his vital injury-time winner in the third-from-last game of the season - a moment that was pinpointed by Dave Jones as pivotal in the final push for the Championship.

So it has been a satisfying time for head physio Paul Smith. “We have averaged 91.5 per cent for player availablity in my three years with the club,” he told The Star.

“That equates to 8.5 per cent of the wage bill being lost to injuries, which is low in comparison to other clubs. I think If I had been able to guarantee that when I joined the club then my salary would have been a bit higher than it is!”

The availability percentage is worked out via an equation that includes the number of players, the number of games played and the number of games that were missed by the players as a group over the 10-month working year.

Smith said: “I spoke to a Premier League physio last week and when I told him our stats his words were: ‘Those will be the best in the country.’

“Importantly for us, we have brought down the injuries that we like to think we can have an impact on and help prevent, and non-contact muscular problems have been brought down for the third year running.

“Looking at some individuals, Nicky Weaver was supposed to be out for 12 to 14 weeks; he was only out for nine. We were told by the specialist that Jermaine Johnson would be out for eight weeks; he was out for five.”

A fall by Antonio during that key game against Carlisle raised a different kind of problem: would his sore shoulder allow him to continue?

“We were pleased with how we managed that,” admits Smith. A lot of supporters have asked me about him: what I said to them was that the easiest thing for us to do would have been just to bring him off.

“The hardest thing was making a decision, in around a minute and a half, on whether he was going to be able to continue and complete the game. We had a big concern about what damage he may have done in the fall.

“The first thing you think is: ‘Has he dislocated his shoulder?’ He said no, it was still in place. Then you ask has it popped out and gone back in again? He said no.

“Then we’re thinking: ‘Has he fractured his collar bone?’ He was getting some pain but we couldn’t feel a deformity.

“Then you’re thinking about the join between the shoulder blade and the collar bone. That’s when we realised that was the area he’d damaged, though again we couldn’t feel any deformity.

“We established he hadn’t ruptured the ligaments, so we let him play on. It’s a matter of using your experience and skill to the benefit of the team. He was obviously in some discomfort; it seemed to be getting better as the game went on. Then he sticks the winner in, in the 95th minute, and the lads jump on him and make the problem worse! That’s when he had to come off. But he was able to complete the rest of the season, though we had to sacrifice his long throws - they would have made his shoulder worse.”

Smith added: “We have managed to reduce the rate of recurring injuries, compared to most previous regimes, which is down to experience, knowing the player and the injury and what he needs to do to get back.

“After three good years, hopefully we’ll have another good one next year. We’re expecting one some time when things aren’t going so well: you get the injuries you can’t prevent, long-term ones that knock your stats out, but we’ll cross that bridge if it happens.”

Smith is appreciative of club doctor Richard Higgins, who is also the England Under 21 medic and will be attached to Team GB for the Olympics: “He does a great job for us. He’s experienced and knowledgeable and we’re lucky to have him.”

It is a compliment returned, when Dr Higgins says: “Paul has been fantastic. Part and parcel of the team doing so well has been the fact that there have been so many players available.”