FIRST-team coach Paul Simpson says Jeff Hendrick has staked a claim to a first-team place and handed Derby County a lovely headache.
The Republic of Ireland international came in for his first start since August on Saturday and helped the Rams to a 2-0 victory over Charlton Athletic.
He replaced Will Hughes, who missed out through illness, and it was Hendrick’s first 90 minutes since recovering from ankle surgery.
His performance brought praise from head coach Steve McClaren and has increased the competition for places in midfield.
“I thought Jeff did a great job. He was full of energy and fight – and he can play football,” McClaren said.
Hendrick, Hughes, Craig Bryson, John Eustace and Kalifa Cisse are battling for three midfield spots in Derby’s 4-3-3 formation.
“It’s a nice position to be in, we’ve got some good players there who can all do a job in midfield,” Simpson said.
“We were delighted with Jeff. The 90 minutes will do him the world of good and it is a case of building him up over the next few weeks and months.
“Jeff has given us a lovely problem and there is competition to see who plays in midfield. It’s a real bonus.
“We want competition in all areas of the pitch.
“We know that there are areas we still need to strengthen to make it competitive but we are really pleased with what the group of players has done for us so far.”
Hendrick had not missed a minute’s action in five games from the start of the season before he was injured in the win at Yeovil.