'Will Hughes is in frame for Derby County starting line-up'
NIGEL Clough says talented Derby County youngster Will Hughes is pushing strongly for a starting role when the season kicks off next week.
Hughes has impressed in pre-season and the 17-year-old midfielder is set to face Premier League opponents Sunderland in tonight's friendly game at Pride Park Stadium (7.45pm).
A few injury niggles are giving Derby concerns ahead of Sunderland's visit but Clough says Hughes will play.
"He will get a chance to stake a claim," the manager added. "Will has done ever so well in pre-season so far, both physically in training and in the games. He deserves a shout as much as anybody.
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"He impressed us against Northampton Town.
"He started in a young side but he was not fazed or overawed by the physical side of things.
"He will just keep playing his game and keep having the ball.
"When he came off the bench at Colchester, he was very good indeed.
"I thought he was the star of the subs. He looked comfortable. I don't think he gave the ball away and he made our equaliser.
"We are very pleased with him.
"It will be interesting to see him against Sunderland."
Hughes gave supporters a glimpse of his potential when he started against Peterborough United in the Rams' final Championship fixture of last season.
Player-of-the-year Craig Bryson is unlikely to be risked against Sunderland and there is a doubt over left-back Gareth Roberts.
Roberts sat out the friendlies at Burton and Northampton with a tight hamstring before he returned for 20 minutes at Colchester on Friday night.
Defenders John Brayford and Jake Buxton picked up knocks at Colchester.
"We think John and Jake will be OK," said Clough.
"Gareth Roberts felt his hamstring again after training on Monday and he probably will not be risked.
"We are being careful with Gareth and that is why we are delighted to have got James O'Connor in because he will slot straight in at left-back.
"The other one is Craig Bryson. His groin has tightened up again in training, which will give Will Hughes a chance."
Clough says the line-up tonight will be close to the one that starts the season.
"It's not going to be a million miles away and we are not going to try to pretend otherwise," he added.
"Depending on how Gareth Roberts is towards the start of the season – and Craig Bryson – it is going to be pretty close.
"Sunderland will provide a big step up in our preparations.
"It is an ideal test. We always try to play a Premier League side and we've had good games against Stoke City and Aston Villa in the last couple of years, so it will be a good measure for us to see how we are doing."
Sunderland striker Stephane Sessegnon is set to miss tonight's game with an ankle injury.
Black Cats manager Martin O'Neill said: "Sessegnon hurt his ankle in training and I don't know whether he will make Wednesday's night's game. Hopefully, he will be ok for Saturday's match."
Sunderland play Leicester City at the weekend.