Nigel Clough says defender James O’Connor has provided a healthy selection dilemma after impressively standing in for the ill Jake Buxton in recent weeks.
Buxton came down with a virus shortly before Derby’s Championship fixture at Bolton on 18th August, and O’Connor impressively stepped in at the last minute to make his first-ever start for the Club and partner Richard Keogh in central defence.
Buxton continued to feel under the weather for the following game at Wolves and O’Connor retained his place to put in another steady display, which meant Clough had some thinking to do before naming his side to face Watford prior to the international break.
He said: “Although Jake could have faced Wolves at push; he still felt rough so we left him at home to rest and recuperate. He had a nasty virus and had taken a lot out of him.
“James has given us a dilemma though and we need players like him, especially with Shaun Barker and Mark O’Brien being out and leaving us a bit short in the central defensive area.
“As they are out, we don’t have too many options back there and we saw young Kieron Freeman make the bench at Wolves.
“James does exactly what he says on the tin; he’s a competent Championship player who is a great lad to have around as well.”
Buxton, having hit the net twice against Scunthorpe in the Capital One Cup and also headed home Derby’s second goal against Sheffield Wednesday a few days later, is Derby’s top goalscorer this season.
Clough admits the centre-back provides aggression in both penalty areas, which means he is missed when he isn’t available for selection.
He said: “We miss Jake when he’s not out there – and that’s without knocking anything James O’Connor has done when he’s been in the team.
“Jake gives us aggression in both penalty areas, and I think the supporters like to see him out there as well.”