DERBY County defender Jake Buxton has been praised for the way he has fought off competition to make a centre-back position his own.
Buxton has proved himself a key part of the team and only goalkeeper Lee Grant, left back Craig Forsyth and striker Chris Martin have started more games this season.
The 28-year-old is forming a first-choice pairing with skipper Richard Keogh at the heart of the defence.
Both Zak Whitbread from Leicester City and Manchester United’s Michael Keane arrived on loan as competition but apart from successive games on the bench in October, Buxton has kept his shirt and deservedly so.
Whitbread is with Derby until the end of the season and is having to be patient on the substitutes’ bench while Keane has returned to United.
The 20-year-old wanted first-team football but failed to break up the Buxton-Keogh partnership.
Buxton’s performances under the new management team of head coach Steve McClaren, first-team coach Paul Simpson and goalkeeper coach Eric Steele have been described as “outstanding”.
Simpson said: “I am sure it was really difficult for Jake when the management changed.
“We all know that Jake has been with Nigel (former Rams manager Nigel Clough) throughout his career and we totally respect that.
“Nigel was good for Jake, but Jake has been absolutely magnificent for us.
“He played in that 4-4 draw against Ipswich Town when we first arrived and I think he would be the first to admit he didn’t have a good game.
“We then left him out for the Leeds and Watford games, although he had to come on early at Watford when Zak Whitbread got injured.
“From that day Jake has made that position his own.
“That is what affected Michael Keane because Jake played so well there was no way he could be left out.
“It is not only what Jake does on the field, he is a good pro around the training ground as well.”
Buxton has made 114 appearances for Derby since he signed on a free transfer from Burton Albion in 2009.
He was the second permanent signing of Clough’s reign and he would have played more games but for a lengthy spell out injured.
Buxton has helped Derby to fourth in the Championship and they are in the promotion race.
The challenge to Buxton and the rest of the players is to finish the season on a high.
“Jake has got another 16 games and hopefully he will keep himself at the level of performance he has shown already,” said Simpson.