NIGEL Clough reckons he could have unearthed a gem with a new Derby County line-up using Michael Jacobs as a strike partner for Conor Sammon.
The Rams boss planned to pair Jamie Ward with Sammon this season before Ward suffered a torn hamstring in September.
He has experimented with a 4-5-1 formation, as well as using Theo Robinson and Nathan Tyson alongside target-man Sammon.
But winger Jacobs showed in some style his ability in the middle when he stormed to a man-of-the-match performance in the 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on New Year’s Day.
“Initially we started with Conor and Jamie Ward,” said Clough last night. “With Michael up there it’s the closest combination we can get to that.
“It’s interesting to see Michael in there.
“The way he takes the ball is great and he runs well with it away from the constraints of the touchline.”
Clough also believes there is a lot more to come from Sammon, signed for £1.2 million just after the start of the season.
The 6ft 2in Irishman has netted six goals in 25 appearances for Derby and has become a key player in the side.
He was missed when rested in the 1-1 draw at Charlton Athletic but came back with a goal against Boro.
“I think there’s more to come from him,” said Clough. “He didn’t play brilliantly against Boro but he was a handful, never gave the defenders a minute and got himself a goal.
“The other players like him being in the team because of his work rate and the fact he’s always there to receive the ball.”
Sammon will have to carry the attack in the second half of the season, with Ward getting eased back in slowly and Robinson and Tyson still more likely to be used as impact players from the bench.
There is also no money for reinforcements.
“We’re down to the bare bones,” said Clough. “If everyone’s fit we’re quite happy with the squad.
“But for anyone to come in, someone will have to go out.”
One player who has come in following a spell on the fringes in Ben Davies.
The 31-year-old midfielder was outstanding against Middlesbrough and looks a shoe-in to keep his place against Tranmere Rovers in the FA third round at Pride Park on Saturday.
“We haven’t got that many experienced players, but the ones we have got are great examples to the younger players,” said Clough.
“Ben’s available whenever you need him, he’s fit and he hasn’t complained once about not getting in the team.
“He’s a great professional and will hang on to his shirt on Saturday.”