NIGEL Clough says Derby County are one of the best clubs at which young players can learn their trade.
Kieron Freeman, 20, came off the bench to play the final nine minutes of Saturday’s 4-1 win over Blackpool, becoming the eighth player aged 21 or under to appear for the Rams this season.
Two of those — midfielders Jeff Hendrick (20) and Will Hughes (17) — have become regulars in the first team and will almost definitely keep their places for tonight’s game against Barnsley at Pride Park, kick-off 7.45pm.
The likes of Mark O’Brien (19), Michael Jacobs (20), Tom Naylor (21) and Mason Bennett (16) have also enjoyed supporting roles over the last season-and-a-half, and Clough is proud of the club’s youth policy.
He said: “We’re not even looking at loan players at the moment as we’ve got the squad strength we want.
“We are relying on youngsters, but you see the benefit of that in the long run.
“With Kieron, we’ve been trying to get him on and, for 10 minutes, he did very well.
“He can play right-back or even one position further up, and he’s done very well in the under-21s.”
Like many of the Rams youngsters, Freeman has been plying his trade in the newly formed Professional Development League, where Derby’s unbeaten under-21s currently top the Northern Division of the second tier of that competition.
“When you have so many young players like we do, the under-21 league is good for them,” said Clough.
“We sometimes get frustrated, but we’ve got to remember that they’re only 20 or something and we’ve got to be patient with them.
“I don’t think there’s any other club that has a path from the academy to the first team like we do.”
Meanwhile, Clough will be looking to end a run of poor results against the Tykes tonight, with the Rams having only beaten their visitors twice at Pride Park since the stadium opened in 1997.
The last win on home soil came six years ago, and Clough said: “They seem to enjoy coming to Pride Park.
“Last season (a 1-1 draw) was as good a performance as we put in all season, but we only scored one goal and it wasn’t enough.
“It’s never an easy game and they’re more than capable of playing anyone off the pitch.”
The Rams went ahead after just 12 minutes on Saturday, and their boss highlighted the importance of making a good start.
He said: “The first five or 10 minutes set the tone for the game.
“We’ll show the lads the difference it makes with the video of Saturday’s game.”
Jake Buxton comes back into contention tonight after serving a one-match ban for his sending off against Peterborough United, but Clough says the former Burton Albion centre-back will not necessarily step straight back into the starting line-up.
“James O’Connor did very well on Saturday and we’ll have to have a chat because we won’t be making too many changes after a result like that,” said Clough. “We’ve got a decision to make there.”.