Mark O'Brien backed by Nigel Clough to avoid starting trouble
NIGEL Clough would have no hesitation in handing young defender Mark O'Brien his first start in a year as Derby County look to end their losing sequence on the road.
O'Brien and James O'Connor are in the frame to replace centre-back Jake Buxton, who has been sidelined for two months by a knee injury.
O'Connor has been filling in at left-back for Gareth Roberts, who remains a doubt for tomorrow's Championship clash against Bristol City at Ashton Gate, and so O'Brien could get the nod to partner skipper Richard Keogh.
O'Brien's last start for the first-team was in a home defeat by Hull City in November last year. He suffered cruciate ligament damage the following month and the knee injury ended his season.
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He returned for pre-season training but still felt some discomfort in his knee and has been eased back into action in the under-21 team.
The 20-year-old has made three appearances as a substitute for the senior side this season and came off the bench when Buxton limped off during the second half of Saturday's victory over Leeds United.
Clough said O'Brien showed enough in the dozen minutes or so against Leeds to suggest he is ready, if called on.
"We' have no problem putting Mark in, no hesitation at all," said the manager.
"His honesty and ability to head the ball even in the last 15 minutes on Saturday was there for everyone to see.
"He has come in and done well before. It's just his fitness and whetherhis knee can stand up to it at this stage because he hasn't played too many games.
"But he is such a brave, courageous lad and that gets him through as much as anything."
At the start of last season, O'Brien came on as a substitute for Russell Anderson in the opening fixture against Birmingham City and then started 16 of the next 17 games before captain Shaun Barker returned from injury.
Clough recalls the impact made by the youngster
"He surprised everybody," said Clough.
"He was behind everybody in his pre-season preparations before he was thrown into that first match against Birmingham and he went on to play a big part in our very good start to the season."
If Roberts is fit to face Bristol City, Clough can choose between O'Brien and O'Connor to fill the vacant place at the heart of the Rams defence.