Key man Craig Bryson is causing a dilemma
NIGEL Clough admits he faces a dilemma over the fitness of key midfielder Craig Bryson ahead of Derby County's home game against Middlesbrough today.
Bryson's knee injury kept him out of Saturday's draw at Charlton Athletic.
Clough is keen to have the Scot available for this afternoon's Championship clash at Pride Park Stadium (3pm), but the manager knows there is a risk involved.
"Craig has done a little bit of training but does not feel 100%," said Clough.
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"We will see how he is – but it is a dilemma.
"Do we take that chance, knowing we have 20 games left after Middlesbrough?
"We have to be largely guided by Craig but then again, he is such a genuine lad he will try and get through it almost to his own detriment at times – and we don't want that to happen.
"Craig's knee has been giving him some pain in the last few weeks. We knew that was going to be the case when he made his comeback at Bristol City.
"He was ahead of schedule and we realised that we'd have to treat him carefully."
Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick filled the central midfield roles at Charlton in a 4-4-2 formation.
Hughes limped off in the second half after taking another heavy knock on his ankle, although he is expected to face Middlesbrough.
"We hope he will be out there – he's getting to be a tough little so-and-so, even at 17," said Clough.
Gareth Roberts (calf) and Mark O'Brien (groin) should also be available but striker Jamie Ward is set to miss out after his brief appearance as a substitute at Charlton.
Ward felt his hamstring tighten on his return to action after three months on the sidelines with hamstring trouble.
Clough was pleased with Derby's display at Charlton.
"The performance, again, was of a very high standard," he said.
"We have not got our rewards in the last three games. To get only one point from nine is a very unfair return.
"We went to Burnley on Boxing Day, had over half of the possession and made 350-odd passes, which is a lot for an away side but we didn't do much with it. I think we put four crosses in.
"We pointed that out to the players and so at Charlton on Saturday, they put 38 crosses in, which is an awful lot considering the average in the Championship is 13.
"How do we turn the crosses into goals? The quality of the crosses has got to be good and then you need players on the end of them with a desire to go and get a goal in the six-yard box."
Middlesbrough are third in the Championship.
They have the second best home record in the division but their away form is patchy.
"We had them watched at Leeds and they weren't too good there but they are more than capable on their day, home or away," said Clough, who sees Middlesbrough as realistic promotion candidates.
Boro are hoping Jonathan Woodgate is passed fit as they battle a defensive crisis.
Woodgate played in Saturday's 4-2 win over Blackpool but has missed 10 of Boro's 25 league games with a variety of muscle strains.
Boro are now missing an entire back four – right-back Justin Hoyte, centre-backs Seb Hines and Andre Bikey and left-back George Friend.