NIGEL Clough will put his strongest side out tonight for Derby County’s showpiece pre-season friendly against Sunderland.
The Rams take on the Black Cats at Pride Park, kick-off 7.45pm, hoping to put on a good show against the Premier League visitors.
It is the penultimate warm-up match for Clough’s men before they face League Two Chesterfield on Saturday.
But the Sunderland game is a marker for how Derby’s new-look side have improved during pre-season — and will give some idea of the starting line-up when the Championship season kicks off at home to Sheffield Wednesday a week on Saturday.
Sunderland, meanwhile, will field a side studded with Premier League talent — although midfielder Stephane Sessegnon will be missing through injury.
“Sessegnon hurt his ankle in training yesterday and I don’t know whether he will make Wednesday night’s game,” Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill said last night.
“Hopefully he will be okay for Saturday’s match. He’s actually going for a scan this afternoon.”
RAMS PROBABLE (4-4-2): Fielding; Brayford, Keogh, Buxton, Roberts; Jacobs, Bryson, Hendrick, Coutts; Ward, Robinson.
CLOUGH hopes young defender Michael Hoganson can improve after he signed a one-year deal at Derby County.
The 18-year-old former Newcastle United left-back has joined the Rams ostensibly to bulk up the club’s new under-21 side.
But he will also provide cover for veteran Gareth Roberts, who has not had a direct replacement since the sale of Dean Moxey 18 months ago.
“We’re pleased Michael has decided to join us,” said Clough. “He’s a young player who has the potential to improve.
“Primarily, we’re looking for him to be part of the new under-21 side, but he will also provide cover down the left hand side of the first-team squad.”
Hoganson, who, like Moxey, can play wide on the left of midfield, has enjoyed a successful trial spell at Pride Park and appeared in the pre-season friendly against Burton Albion, which Derby won 1-0.
He spent three years at Newcastle, playing reserve team football under ex-Magpies striker Peter Beardsley, but was released after failing to make the grade at St James’ Park.
Derby’s new under-21 side will take part in the Professional Development League this season, playing in a 12-team division including Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Leicester City.
The new league is part of the Elite Player Performance Plan introduced this summer with the agreement of the Premier League and Football League.
RAMS striker Jamie Ward will miss next Wednesday’s clash with Scunthorpe United in the first round of the Capital One Cup after being called up by Northern Ireland for the friendly against Finland.