Value of players' versatility figures highly for Derby County manager Nigel Clough
SKIPPER Richard Keogh led by example in the victory over Leicester City that eased Derby County’s concerns in the bottom half of the Championship.
Jake Buxton was also excellent alongside Keogh at the heart of the defence and striker Chris Martin again showed why Derby are keen to extend his loan stay from Norwich City.
For an hour, Jamie Ward was a menace from the left and his contribution fully justified the gamble in playing him.
Overshadowed by others, perhaps but Craig Forsyth went about his task quietly and effectively and highlighted the value of the versatile player.
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Gareth Roberts’ calf injury suffered in training the day before the Leicester game led to Forsyth being asked to fill in at left-back.
His previous two appearances at Cardiff and Birmingham had been on the left side of a four-man midfield but the 24-year-old, on loan from Watford, can play positions down the left hand side.
Michael Hoganson stepped in at left-back for three matches recently when Roberts was suspended following his red card at Hull.
Hoganson, 19, showed plenty of promise and he is developing but the importance of the Leicester game to Derby’s precarious position in the table saw Nigel Clough opt for the extra experience of Forsyth, especially as the back four already included a 20-year-old right-back in Kieron Freeman.
Forsyth’s height – he stands at 6ft 2in – helped in the air and he also got forward, more so in the first half when he centred for Martin to head the second goal.
Clough is using the two loan signings of Forsyth and Martin to take a good look at them ahead of possible permanent deals in the summer.
Versatile players hold added value in smaller squads because of their ability to cover two or three positions.
This has to figure in Clough’s thinking when he is having to juggle squad numbers alongside wage budget.
“We have to have that versatility, it is absolutely vital,” Clough told me as we chatted after the Leicester win.
Derby’s squad already contained versatility with John Brayford, Paul Coutts, James O’Connor and Ward.
Brayford is the number one right-back when fit, a key figure in the side and a vital cog in attacks down the right.
He can also play centre-back and he has impressed there on the few occasions he has had to shuffle across this season.
Not the biggest of centre-backs, his competitive nature, desire and stickability make him a formidable opponent for strikers.
Coutts, on the right side of midfield, links up with Brayford to good effect and the Scot also looks at home in central midfield, either in a two or a three.
Ward has played up front in most of his 20 appearances this season and he is top scorer with 11 goals but he probably troubles defences more when he operates on the left, as he did against Leicester. Ask Foxes defender Sean St Ledger!
O’Connor’s preferred position is right-back but he has found himself at centre-back and even left-back for Derby.
Although he struggled at left-back, he has done well when called on at centre-back as we saw earlier this season, notably at Bolton and Wolves.
Even some of the young players – Michael Jacobs, Kieron Freeman and Valentin Gjokaj – have played in different positions in their ventures into the first team.