Clough: We must keep Jamie Ward fit
KEEPING Jamie Ward fit for the rest of the season is crucial to Derby County's hopes, according to manager Nigel Clough.
Clough is convinced Derby would have more points on the board if Ward had not been sidelined for three months with hamstring problems.
The striker, who can also play on the left, is in line to make his first start since the end of September when Nottingham Forest visit Pride Park Stadium today (1pm).
Clough feels Derby have missed Ward's edge and feistiness – but more so his quality.
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"Wardy will be in with a shout of starting," said Clough.
"It's good to have him back with 18 or 19 games to go, with the FA Cup game, and it is important we keep him fit for the majority of those or all of them if we can.
"He makes a difference to us. Like Craig Bryson, you need your main players on the pitch.
"People forget about Wardy's quality but we miss that more than anything – and his ability to get a goal.
"If he can stay fit, it would almost be like having a new player.
"It is impossible to tell but I think we would have a few more points on the board if he had been available.
"In those close games away from home, I think he would have nicked us a goal, a penalty or a free kick – anything that might get us something on the road."
Ward started the season and scored four goals in eight games before he tore a hamstring in the victory over Forest at the City Ground.
His comeback as a substitute at Charlton lasted only 16 minutes due to a tight hamstring. He missed the matches against Middlesbrough and Tran-mere Rovers but he came through 50 minutes of action at Brighton a week ago.
Ward's torn hamstring brought an abrupt halt to his developing strike partnership with Conor Sammon in the early matches of this season.
"Think back to the start of the season and we have missed that link-up with Conor," said Clough.
"You want a partnership to build but it hasn't had a chance to do so.
"We have missed Jamie's goal threat. We said last summer that if we play him up the middle, we think he'll get goals."