Former Derby County defender Michael Johnson believes on-loan defender Matt Clarke has the ability to play an important role for Phillip Cocu’s side at both ends of the pitch.

Clarke, who is 23, joined Derby on the eve of the 2019/20 campaign on a season-long loan deal from Premier League Brighton & Hove Albion.

He started the campaign as a regular in the Rams’ backline but was forced to endure a spell on the sidelines due to injury and, ahead of Friday’s Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round tie at Northampton Town, he has made 18 appearances in all competitions.

The centre-back returned to action from injury towards the end of 2019 and has played a key role in Derby’s current six-game unbeaten run with some impressive defensive showings.

He also played his part from an attacking point of view as he scored the only goal in the Rams’ 1-0 home win over Hull City last weekend with a towering header from a corner.

Johnson, who made 138 appearances for Derby between 2003 and 2008, returned to the club in 2015 as a club ambassador and has been impressed with Clarke’s recent form.

“Defenders are expected to chip in with goals and I was brought up in an era when you were expected to contribute with five or six goals per season,” said Johnson on RamsTV’s latest instalment of the Derby County Show.

“The delivery first-and-foremost has to be spot on, so the defender can attack the ball, and the header from Matt Clarke was fantastic against Hull.

“At the other end the defending is Matt’s bread and butter and that’s the most important thing. He puts his body on the line and makes those last-minute blocks and clearances.

“If he can continue in his rich vein of form then we can be a real threat in both boxes.”

Johnson, who is part of the England Under-21 coaching set-up under the FA’s Elite Coach Placement Programme, believes Clarke has the potential to enjoy a successful playing career.

He is already closing in on 200 career appearances after spending four productive years at Portsmouth.

Johnson, who is now 46, believes Clarke is benefitting from a run of games in the Rams’ backline.

He said: “If you have a run of games (as a player in the team) then you can get into a trend of what kind of character and personality of the player you’re going to become.

“I still think Matt is finding his feet with that because of the injury that he had earlier in the season.

“What we can say is that he is a young man with a lot of potential. If he continues in the way he is then not only will he be good for us this season, but he will have a wonderful career as well.”