Clough highlights versatile O'Connor as 'a great player to have'.

Clough highlights versatile O'Connor as 'a great player to have'.

Nigel Clough has highlighted the importance of having utility man James O’Connor in the Derby County squad, after the defender stepped in at the last minute to put in a solid debut display at Bolton Wanderers in midweek.

Summer signing O’Connor, who can play anywhere across the back four, was a late replacement for centre-back Jake Buxton who was forced to withdraw from the starting XI minutes before the teamsheets were due to be handed in due to illness.

Unfazed by the situation, O’Connor slotted in alongside Richard Keogh at the heart of Derby’s backline and helped keep Kevin Davies and Marvin Sordell quiet for long spells, until the former lashed home with 14 minutes left to play at the Reebok Stadium.

Although the former Aston Villa trainee is viewed as a player to provide cover right across the back four, Clough feels the defender will have a big part to play during the season.

He said: “What with the post-match chat about the defeat and Conor Sammon’s first appearance after signing from Wigan, it’s worth mentioning just how well James O’Connor did up at Bolton.

“James came into the side at the very last minute with Jake being ill, but it didn’t make an ounce of difference and I thought he was superb.

“With only two games played this season, we’ve seen the value of James already. He can play anywhere across the back four and he just slots in with no fuss whatsoever.

“He’s a good, competent Championship player and there aren’t too many about like him who can come in and do a job in so many positions; he’s a very good and important player to have in the camp.”

Should Buxton miss out on Saturday’s trip to Wolves, O’Connor would appear to be in poll position to line up alongside skipper Keogh in the West Midlands.