Nigel Clough has urged his Derby County players to continue to provide healthy selection dilemmas.
With the new season only days away, Clough has been encouraged by a number of players’ performances both in pre-season training and in friendly matches.
The Rams boss is adamant that the starting line-up for the first league game of the season against Sheffield Wednesday on 18th August is not yet set in stone – and that there’s still time for players to prove they are worthy of a starting berth.
One of the final chances to stake a claim for a first-team spot will be against Premier League Sunderland tonight, in Derby’s penultimate pre-season friendly of the summer at Pride Park Stadium.
Clough said: “The players should think exactly like we are; that tonight’s game is one of the last chances to stake a claim for a first-team place in many ways.
“Nothing is set in stone right now, so places are up for grabs still.
“Even in midfield, where we are happy with Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendrick as our pairing, Will Hughes has done well when he’s come on in matches and he’s giving us a nice dilemma – as is Paul Coutts with his performances.
“It’s good to have those dilemmas. The players are always putting thoughts into our minds as a staff with regards to the starting line-up, which is nice.
“A year ago we were patching players up left, right and centre to play Birmingham City on the opening day of the season, and the side pretty much picked itself that day.
“It’s nice to have 18-20 players at our disposal who are all fit and ready to go, which we hope will be the case for the next few weeks.”
Clough believes coming up against Premier League opposition is an important part of Derby’s pre-season preparations.
He said: “It’s another test for us and certainly our biggest yet in terms of pre-season matches.
“Sunderland are a good, strong Premier League side so to go up against them will be a very good examination for the players.
“It will also be a good measure of how we’re progressing towards the season. We’ve stepped things up gradually as pre-season has progressed, and tonight will be a completely different exercise to any other we’ve had in the last few weeks.
“We like to face a Premier League side late in pre-season, which we’ve done in the last few years against Stoke City and Aston Villa. It’s worked well for us and we’re pleased we’ve been able to continue with it this year against Sunderland.”