Nigel Clough has hailed Mark O’Brien’s return from injury as a welcome boost after the defender made his comeback in Saturday’s pre-season friendly at Burton Albion.
The 19-year-old central defender sustained cruciate ligament damage at the end of December last year in training, and was immediately ruled out for the rest of the season.
After coming through a gruelling rehabilitation programme the Irishman, who was a regular at the heart of defence during the first half of last season, came off the bench in the closing stages of Derby’s 1-0 at the Pirelli Stadium.
Clough has opted to treat O’Brien carefully despite seeing the teenager return to full training earlier in the month, and left him out of last Wednesday’s pre-season clash at Mansfield to allow him a few extra days before returning to a match situation.
Clough told Rams Player: “It was brilliant to see Mark get back on the pitch.
“He’s had a tough few months, but he’s worked incredibly hard and to see him out there again was tremendous.
“Straight away he was back to heading the ball, which is the only way he can play really.
“He’s used his time out wisely to bulk up as well and he’s looking very strong now, but his attitude has been spot on and he’s back on schedule which is pleasing for him and us.”
O’Brien will now battle it out with Richard Keogh, Jake Buxton and Tom Naylor for a central defensive berth in Clough’s side for the new season.
Clough added: “He’s competitive and a natural defender, so it’s great to have him back as a defensive option this season.
“Last season Mark surpassed expectations in many ways, so it’ll be interesting to see how he does this season.
“We’ve got good competition in the central defensive area of the team now, and Mark coming back into the fold is certainly a big boost.”