By Tony Leighton

He's only 31, but Derby County winger Ben Davies is something of a veteran among the pack of youngsters in the first-team squad at Pride Park.

Rams boss Nigel Clough has five teenagers and a further six youngsters aged 20 or 21 in his 27-man playing squad, so Davies can be forgiven if he feels his age at times.

Though he is one of the npower Championship's nippiest wingers, he admits: "The kids fly around in training and if you don't keep up with them you just get left behind.

"But it's good for the likes of me," jokes the ex-Shrewsbury Town and Notts County player, "because we can have a rest now and then when they're running around!

"It's actually really nice to be around them, they give you a real lift and it's brilliant to see them all progressing the way they are this season."

Seventeen-year-old midfielder Will Hughes has been picking up most of the plaudits and over half of the Premier League's clubs are reported be monitoring him.

Then there's striker Mason Bennett, who at 16 years and 147 days became Derby's youngest ever scorer in Saturday's 5-0 FA Cup win against Tranmere Rovers.

And, with 20-year-old Jeff Hendrick a first-team regular alongside Hughes in midfield, the future is looking bright for the Rams as Clough gives youth its chance.

Davies added: "The club puts a lot of time and effort into developing young players and we're lucky to have some that are exceptional.

"A lot of managers don't even bother looking at youngsters, but if you're good enough here the gaffer will play you and full credit to him for that.

"It's brilliant that the likes of Will, Mason and Jeff have attracted attention and one thing's for sure, they will all eventually play at the highest level.

"But there's a production line here and we've got four or five waiting to come in - they train with us and play for the reserves and don't look out of place."

With the young Rams pushing the more experienced players there is a collective spring in the heel of the Derby squad as they look to produce a promotion challenge.

They are just three points behind the Play-Off places and face Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday with confidence boosted after beating fourth-placed Middlesbrough last time out.

Davies said: "We've got a great chance this season. We've played every team in the league now and I don't think that we have anyone to fear."

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