NIGEL Clough will not bring in a loan player before tonight’s clash with high-flying Hull City, kick-off 7.45pm, despite being without up to four centre-halves.
Mark O’Brien pulled out of Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday after feeling the back of his knee during the warm-up, and was replaced by Jake Buxton, himself only just back from over two months out injured.
The former Burton Albion stopper put in a performance that Clough described as “incredible”, but is now a major doubt, while James O’Connor will not recover from his knee problem in time and Shaun Barker is a long-term injury.
That leaves captain Richard Keogh as the only fit recognised central defender, but asked if he would consider delving into the transfer market, Clough said: “Not for one game, as important as it is.
“I don’t really see the benefit of that, and we’ve said all along that we’ll use the younger players if we need to, and shuffle things around.
“We’re going to find solutions from within the squad.
“We’ve got a few players who can’t wait to get a game at the moment so they might get their chance tomorrow.
“It always seems to happen in one position - you seem to lose all your strikers, all your midfielders or all your centre-halves, and at the moment we’ve got four centre-halves struggling.”
O’Brien and Buxton will be given every chance to prove their fitness, but if not, full-back John Brayford is the most likely replacement, as he has played in the centre before, while Valentin Gjokaj - recently capped by Albania under-21s - would be a like-for-like replacement.
On Buxton’s performance against the Owls, Clough said: “It was incredible.
“There’s not too many players in modern football who would come in and play with 15 minutes’ notice after being out for nine weeks.
“He might be fit for the bench, we might start him, we’ll just have to see.
“Mark has been playing with this for the last few weeks and his knee’s not right, it needs a few weeks’ rest and we might have to give it to him now.
“We haven’t ruled Mark O’Brien out yet, and we’re hoping to get one of them out there.
“If not, we’ll shuffle things around.
“Valentin is an option, although it’s maybe a lot to ask him to come in, and John Brayford has played there before.
“Then someone like Kieron Freeman could drop straight in (at right-back).
“We’ll have to see who is the best of them.”
Tonight’s opponents are currently fourth in the Championship, but level on points with both second-placed Leicester City and third-placed Watford.
Clough praised the resoluteness that manager Steve Bruce had instilled in the Tigers, but believes it will be a slight clash of styles at the KC Stadium.
He said: “We won’t go there and be negative, we haven’t done that in any game this season and Hull away won’t be any different.
“They’re set up to be very difficult to break down with the three at the back and five across midfield.
“They have the quality to hurt you as well.
“They don’t score lots and lots of goals - there’s a lot of one-nils and nil-nils.
“We go about it in a different way I think, we’re more positive and proactive in trying to get results.
“Sometimes that works against you.”
Meanwhile, Clough was quick to laud his side’s unheralded recent form, which has seen them lose just one league game in their last six.
He said: “We’ve only lost one game since Boxing Day and it’s February 12, that’s five or six weeks.
“We know that in that time we’ve faced some very tricky games, and the only defeat was a very narrow one at Brighton - 2-1 when we could have had something late on.
“Our performances have been consistent, and we’re building up that ‘don’t lose’ mentality.
“We want to win the games, but if you can’t, then don’t lose them.”
Jamie Ward (calf) and Theo Robinson (hip) are slight doubts but should be passed fit, while Tom Naylor has returned from his loan spell with Bradford City and could be in the squad.