HEAD coach Steve McClaren says it is difficult to leave George Thorne out of Derby County’s starting XI.
Thorne has started the last three games after a wait of seven weeks for his debut.
He arrived on loan from West Bromwich Albion at the end of January, but was kept out by John Eustace’s displays as the Rams’ holding midfielder.
Eustace’s two-match ban for reaching 10 yellow cards opened the door for Thorne – and he has stepped through in impressive fashion.
He is set to make a fourth consecutive start when Derby face Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium today.
“George had to be so patient, I had to apologise every week to him about not playing but John Eustace was doing so well and we were winning games,” said McClaren.
“We always say when you get an opportunity, be ready, and George has certainly been ready and has performed very well.”
Thorne made his debut in the 5-0 victory over Nottingham Forest and played in the narrow defeat away to Ipswich Town.
Eustace was available again when Charlton Athletic visited the iPro Stadium a week ago, but Thorne retained his place and helped the Rams to a 3-0 win.
McClaren believes Thorne’s contribution says a lot about Derby’s squad.
“Look at the bench, and in the stand, and we have got quality players,” said McClaren.
“We have not had Will Hughes, Jamie Ward and Simon Dawkins for recent games and options have been a little limited, but look at last week’s victory over Charlton and both Conor Sammon and John Eustace came off the bench and gave us energy.
“You cannot ask for anymore. That is what I call a squad, not a team.”