SEEING Jake Reeves joining the warm-up was an unexpected bonus for the 401 travelling City fans at Shrewsbury.

Most had probably given up on the prospect of seeing the midfielder back in the squad after nearly two years out of the picture through injury.

Long-term casualties can be easily forgotten in the unrelenting world of football where the focus is always on the here and now.

But Reeves has finally rediscovered a chink of light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.

City’s casualty department may still be far too full for Gary Bowyer’s liking but its longest resident hopes to have moved out.

Reeves’ long-awaited recovery will give hope to others stuck on the sidelines, none more so than Joe Riley.

The defender suffered his own injury heartbreak during pre-season at a time when he looked poised to resurrect his Valley Parade career.

After a first year when he quickly found himself bombed from the first-team plans by David Hopkin, who unsuccessfully tried to move him on in January, Riley had come back in the summer with the aim of seizing his second chance.

Bowyer’s promise of a clean slate for all offered the former Manchester United man another opportunity after just six previous starts. Riley’s performances in the opening friendlies against Guiseley and Liverpool suggested a player with the bit between his teeth.

But then, just over a week before the big kick-off, Riley slipped awkwardly in a training session and tore the cruciate ligament in his knee.

An operation quickly followed – and the sentence of a lengthy spell away from the pitch to allow his body to repair.

It was a devastating blow but one that his team-mates are determined to cushion during Riley’s lengthy road to recovery.

“The lads have been amazing with him ever since we found out what he’d done,” said Bantams centre half Ben Richards-Everton.

“I remember when it happened and we all thought it was maybe just a little knock. It was during one of the small-sided games we were doing in pre-season.

“It turned out that he’d done his ACL and everyone was distraught. It was obviously even more horrible for Joe.

“I’ve had a bad injury before, not as long as an ACL but I did my cartilage in my left leg.

“I was out for five to six months and it’s hard. It can be lonely at times and you need to be strong mentally.

“The gaffer has been brilliant with him and so have the lads. We put an arm round him to show that we’ll get through it together.”

Riley is progressing according to plan but the battle has to be won mentally just as much as physically.

A get-away break to Dubai last month lifted his spirits and he is now able to drive into the training ground again as the knee regains its strength.

But it’s just as important that he still feels part of the group despite being unable to contribute on the pitch.

That’s where players like fellow defender Richards-Everton come in with maintaining his morale.

The centre half has his own experience of life in the treatment room. He missed half a season during his time with Dunfermline in Scotland with an injured knee.

So, he can relate to the frustration inside Riley’s head.

Richards-Everton added: “I know what he’s going through when you’re out for a considerable period of time and have spoken to him myself on a personal level.

“When I was injured, I found the worst part wasn’t being on crutches or the injury itself but knowing that you can’t go out there to train with the boys.

“Everybody is getting their boots on apart from you. That’s where you have to be mentally strong and I think Joe has been.

“The lads have helped him every day. He comes in and he’s smiling and still himself.

“If anyone sensed that it was getting to him, they’d get an arm round him straight away and say, ‘c’mon Joe’.

“That’s the team spirit that we’ve got and having good characters around you. It’s so important in situations like that.

“This will only make Joe stronger, not only mentally but with the rehab he’s doing on his knee he's going to feel better physically.

“You see him in the gym every day and he’s working really hard. You never know, he could be back.”