In our latest instalment of the Flashback series, we take a look back at a certain moment and look at how things might have changed those initial reactions.
Ciaran Clark moved to Newcastle United in 2016 for £5.1million (BBC) as an inconsistent member of the Aston Villa first-team, however his fortunes remained much the same in the North East following the Magpies’ promotion back into the Premier League.
Seven years as a senior player in Birmingham saw Clark make 159 first-team appearances from a possible 229 across all competitions (TransferMarkt), with his name infrequently mentioned in the starting line-up outside of three top-flight campaigns.
His debut season as a Magpie was of stark contrast, though, as only a late hiatus from Rafa Benitez’s plans prevented Clark from prolonging a 29-game streak in the opening XI as Newcastle wrapped up the Championship title and their Premier League return at the first time of asking.
Clark’s name was soon back among the starting line-up when top-flight football began in August 2017 with the arrival of Tottenham Hotspur to St. James’ Park, but it would not stay there for long, as Benitez instilled changes in October and would do again throughout the remainder of the term.
By the summer, Clark had featured 20 times in the Premier League as his role under Benitez began to waver, and the Spaniard’s faith dwindled further in 2018/19, when the Republic of Ireland international featured just 11 times.
The 30-year-old’s name was omitted from the 18-man squad on 18 occasions, as well, but Clark may have finally found his role on Tyneside now that Benitez has left, and Steve Bruce has taken charge.
Bruce did not turn to Clark immediately following his arrival, with the former England youth international having to wait until matchday eight for his league season debut. But when he faced Manchester United on October 6 in place of the previously favoured Paul Dummett, the Harrow-born defender brought some much-needed solidity into a backline that had been torn apart by Leicester City the week before.
Fans have now been lauding Clark as being worthy of starting again when Newcastle travel to Chelsea on Saturday (via Chronicle), and their views should be echoed by those of Bruce, who will have witnessed the uplift the Villa product brought to his side when facing the Red Devils.
Statistically, his efforts against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Old Trafford natives were no more outstanding than those of Jamaal Lascelles or Fabian Schar, but together they denied Manchester United and formed a unit far more convincing than the one that featured at the King Power Stadium.
Two successful tackles from two attempts, along with two interceptions and two clearances read Clark’s defensive numbers against the likes of Marcus Rashford, Dan James and Juan Mata (WhoScored), no more outlandish than Lascelles sole tackle and far fewer than Schar’s seven clearances.
Clark’s new found purpose was not just in his defensive talents, but in the solidity he brought to the backline, and in a way which allowed Jetro Willems to charge up the left-flank and demonstrate his threat going forward.
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