Phillip Cocu says defender Matt Clarke could return to full training with the Derby County squad before Christmas.

The 23-year-old on-loan Brighton & Hove Albion centre-back has been sidelined since the beginning of November with a knee injury.

Clarke sustained the injury in the early stages of the local derby encounter at Nottingham Forest.

He is making good progress and Cocu believes he could return earlier than first expected.

Meanwhile, midfielder Tom Huddlestone is also progressing well in his rehabilitation work after injuring his hamstring at the start of October.

“Matt Clarke’s injury looks good; I think he will start part of the sessions with the team soon so that is earlier than expected,” Cocu told RamsTV.

“Maybe also Tom Huddlestone will return to the group soon but will need some more time because he has been out a few months.

“Matt is the only one who could return before Christmas.”

Striker Jack Marriott missed the weekend’s 1-0 home defeat to Millwall with a minor muscle injury.

Cocu hopes that Marriott could be available for this weekend’s trip to Reading in what will be Derby’s final match before Christmas.

He said: “Jack has a small muscle injury but the scan wasn’t too bad so I expect we expect a couple of days he will return.

“I don’t know if he can make it to the next game, at Reading on Saturday, it is possible so that is hopefully the case because we need him.”

Graeme Shinnie (hamstring), Mason Bennett (ankle) and Ikechi Anya (calf) will be out of action until the New Year.