WILL Hughes is facing a race against time to be fit for Derby County’s clash with Championship leaders Cardiff City tonight.
The £5 million-rated 17-year-old picked up a knock in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Birmingham City.
He sat out training yesterday and is doubtful for tonight’s match at Pride Park, kick-off 7.45pm.
“He’s been a really good player for us,” said Rams coach John Metgod. “We’ll just have to wait to see how he is.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed that he’ll be okay.”
If midfielder Hughes is ruled out, it paves the way for Jeff Hendrick’s return to the first team.
The 20-year-old was dropped on Saturday after a run of poor performances, but Metgod has backed the young Irishman to bounce back.
“I think we might be forgetting that he is only 20,” said the former Real Madrid, Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur powerhouse.
“He only started to play in the Championship last season and so he’s bound to have better times, and sometimes he’ll struggle because he’s still learning the trade.
“He went through one of those times when things did not go the way he wanted them to and we wanted them to.
“So we gave him a breather because sometimes if you keep them in the team it can create an even bigger problem for the player.
“If you take him out for a couple of games he might return fresh and have another crack at it.
“It’s always a tough decision to leave any player out, but all we can do is pick a team we think has the best chance of winning the game.
“Inevitably, that will mean people will be left out.”
One player hoping to get a start tonight is striker Nathan Tyson, who grabbed the winner on Saturday.
It was his third goal in six substitute appearances — and Metgod and boss Nigel Clough are on the verge of bringing him in for Theo Robinson tonight.
“Nathan’s attitude has been brilliant in all the time he’s been with us,” said Clough.
“We’re delighted Conor Sammon is getting the goals, and everybody is chuffed Nathan’s getting a few as well now.
“His pace makes him a good option as a sub.
“When back fours are tiring, that’s when we’ve used him. He’s the last thing a centre-half wants to see coming on at 70-odd minutes gone.”
Metgod, however, does not want Tyson to be branded a “super sub”.
“I would not like him to be named a super sub because it means you are sub, and if you are a player, you want to play,” said the Dutchman.
“But you cannot fault Nathan, each time he has come on he has done the job.
“He’s pushing and pushing to get in the team and that’s all he can do.
“He’s making the decision to leave him out harder and harder and that’s a luxury position for us to be in.”
Metgod has also urged the Rams to be up for every game, not just those against teams at the top of the table.
“There are not just two big games coming up - there are 28 big games coming up,” he said.
“Just because we’re playing against the leaders doesn’t mean it’s a bigger game than playing against anybody else.
“One thing, it’s probably easier for a player to play against the league leaders because you don’t need any motivation.”