Clark takes it on the chin and rises to fight another day
The Aston Villa man has had some harsh lessons this season, writes Dion Fanning
Ciaran Clark likes to get home on a Saturday night and watch Match of the Day. He likes to see how the other teams are doing and maybe he'll even learn something.
Last Saturday he got in and sat down to relax. Villa had got what he says was "a good point" at Everton. There haven't been many good points, there haven't been many points in recent weeks. Villa haven't won since they beat Liverpool at Anfield on December 15 so a draw at Goodison, even if they were 3-1 up, was something. Clark then saw Alan Hansen dismantle his game, particularly his lack of experience in his attempts to mark Victor Anichebe. Hansen did point out that by the end Clark looked like he had learned from his mistakes but it wasn't much to cling to.
Clark has been learning in the toughest way all season and he shrugged when asked about Hansen's words. "When you watch Match of the Day, you take whatever they say on board. That's all you can do really," he says.
It is late after the game against Poland and Clark has been doing a lot of talking. He wants to go and is absent-minded but even as he looks around, wondering when he can get to the bus, he speaks neutrally. Villa will take "each game as it comes" and he'll "just have to see what happens". Like most footballers, his goal is to give no offence and reveal nothing that might cause trouble. When you have been playing in the Villa defence all year, it's probably prudent to limit the damage to the field.
The point at Everton gives Villa some hope before the lunchtime game against West Ham. Villa are second bottom, exposed by Randy Lerner's decision to reduce costs and allow a young team to develop. How much they can develop if they are relegated may yet be revealed but Lerner is backing Paul Lambert and Lambert is backing the young players.
"I'd like to think we're maturing," Clark says. "We've had a lot of new lads come into the team, at the start of the season it took time to get used to each other. We've shown we can do it against the big teams, we did very well against Liverpool, Everton, Man City in the Cup, it we can keep playing as we did against Everton we'll pick up points and we'll be fine."
When they won at Anfield, Lambert was praised by many for his nurturing of the young players. The next week they went to Chelsea and lost 8-0. "It was a tough Christmas period, we'd done so well against Liverpool and that went out the window in the next few matches."
Villa have picked up three points in the games since then, but against West Brom and Everton they conceded late equalisers. Clark believes the Everton performance has helped them even if Marouane Fellaini equalised in injury time. "We should have won the game but when you get a point like that you look forward to the next game."
If Clark struggled against Anichebe, he will have another physical battle with Andy Carroll.
Clark was man of the match for Ireland against Poland and he wanted to remember that more than the criticism from Alan Hansen, no matter how constructive it was.
It may be that Clark is now a contender for a starting place against Sweden. He will have learned a lot more by then. As he left on Wednesday, he was asked if the season would make him rather than break him. If he admitted the latter, we would have had a story but still he gave no offence. "I hope so," he said. "We'll have to see."
Aston Villa v West Ham Utd
Sky Sports 1, 1.30