The holding midfielder role seems to be becoming more and more important in modern football, with full-backs expected to attack at every opportunity. Derby are certainly a team that like to utilise the attacking abilities of their full-backs, and considering they are the second highest scorers in the division, you can see it paying off.
Key to their play this season then, has been John Eustace. The 34-year-old is experienced and aggressive, and has been a standout performer sitting in front of the two centre-backs for the majority of games this season. His aggressive nature and perhaps his older age though lead to him picking up a tenth booking before the Forest game and subsequently, a two-match ban.
In steps George Thorne. The 21-year-old had been waiting seven weeks to make his debut for Derby, after joining on loan from West Brom. Thorne had had a spell on loan at Watford earlier in the season, and despite hearing good things fans were unsure what to expect from the midfielder.
What they received was a masterclass. Composed, positive and rarely looking flustered, Thorne marshalled the Derby midfield as if he'd been there all season. He was at the centre of all that was good, allowing Bryson and Hendrick to make runs beyond the striker from midfield – resulting in a Bryson hat-trick and a solitary goal for Hendrick.
The performance continued on Tuesday against Ipswich and again against Charlton on Saturday. Thorne looks at home in the midfield and is looking a brilliant prospect once again, after the ligament injury he picked up against Everton for West Bromwich Albion.
While it remains unclear if the Baggies will allow it, Derby surely must try and make a permanent move for the midfielder. After all, a player like him is hard to find. One who is confident on the ball and with the ability to play passes into runners from a deeper position while remaining positionally-disciplined.
Eustace will not be playing forever and Thorne looks the perfect replacement.