WILL Hughes and John Eustace will be given the chance to prove they can fill the "George Thorne" role for Derby County this season, writes Steve Nicholson.
The two are vying for the controlling position in midfield as Derby consider how to move on from the blow of losing Thorne to injury.
Thorne is recovering from knee surgery and faces up to nine months out.
He was seen as a key piece in the jigsaw this season following his move from West Bromwich Albion.
Hughes (pictured) and Eustace played 45 minutes each against Burton Albion on Tuesday and first-team coach Paul Simpson said: "It is between those two, at the moment.
"We feel we have some good midfield players with Jeff Hendrick, Craig Bryson, John Eustace and Will Hughes.
"We have got four good players, it is getting them into the right shape."
Derby have not ruled out dipping into the transfer market to replace Thorne, but Simpson said: "We are willing to give these lads a go while we consider whether or not we need to look at bringing somebody else in."
Given the financial outlay to bring in Thorne it is likely any new additions will be on loan.
Thorne impressed during a loan spell at Derby last season and landing the 21-year-old topped the list of priorities.
Simpson says Thorne is a tough act to follow.
"We knew what George could do and he grew into the position last season," said Simpson.
"It is a tough act to follow but we have got players like Eustace, who played the role for long periods of the season, and Will Hughes came in and did very well in midfield.
"It is very early to say which one is going to get the nod but we will keep working with them and hopefully we will choose the right midfield players and forward players to go and win the game for us."
Striker Conor Sammon scored a hat-trick and Ivan Calero also found the net as Derby County under-21s beat Oxford United 4-2 in a friendly at the Rams' training ground yesterday.