Dark side of Twitter not so 'tweet' for players
Clark abuse shows how quickly fickle fans can turn on their heroes
"Another reason to hate that useless pr**k Ciaran Clark."
"Anyone who has seen Ciaran Clark play football shouldn't be surprised he's broken someone's leg. He's s**t."
"Just when I thought you couldn't be any more useless, you break Kozak's leg."
Football fans can be particularly charming people sometimes. Last week, Ciaran Clark felt the full force of Twitter anger and, in an even more unpleasant development than usual, it came from supporters of his own club with Aston Villa keyboard warriors outraged that his training ground challenge had ended the campaign of their Czech striker Libor Kozak.
Considering that Clark is having a tough time of it this season, he could have done without the official confirmation that he was responsible, although it was probably inevitable it would leak out anyway.
Paul Lambert tried to diffuse the situation by saying it was innocuous challenge, but that did little to appease the cyber version of a mob with a pitchfork.
Their anger is, of course, preposterous. Nobody can seriously believe that Clark, who is considered a decent skin, set out with the intention of deliberately injuring a team-mate.
Freak training ground accidents happen and, if anything, it illustrates a full-blooded approach to day-to-day work, which is surely what the paying public want from richly rewarded players in the build-up to a match.
After promising a lot in his early Villa appearances, Clark is struggling through the awkward second-album phase and has drifted in and out of Lambert's side this season, even spending time at left-back, an experiment which we thought was consigned to the past.
Unfortunately, he retains a reputation for being guilty of rash challenges, a fault Giovanni Trapattoni quickly identified, and has picked up six bookings in his last 10 outings.
But Clark is just 24 and by no means a beaten docket. He has undergone a stern examination in a team that is short of experience, and there is a chance he could learn from this rocky spell and grow into the player that his early potential hinted at. It is far too early to make definitive proclamations about his future.
If his confidence is suffering, he'd be better off ignoring his Twitter account for the next while though.
Social media is consistently put forward as a convenient way for footballers to interact with the public, a welcome development at a time when clubs do their best to shield their players away from attention.
Villa's visit to Tallaght Stadium in August to play Shamrock Rovers is a case in point. The squad was whisked in and out, with interviews banned and the healthy crowd deprived of proper autograph opportunities aside from jostling around the team bus.
Let's be realistic. The players were almost certainly delighted to avoid a media charm offensive, but there didn't appear to be anything too joyous about the existence of Lambert's squad as they followed orders to the letter.
The tweet machine guards players from nothing, so they get a clear sense of how punters are feeling.
Increasingly, that's becoming a retrograde step.
Flak from rival camps may be the proverbial water off the duck's back, but it's the stick from their own ranks that is often the harshest with mischievous trolls and hate-filled teenagers ensuring that invective triumphs over insight.
It's a nice segue to the opening of the transfer window, a period where the overall issue of loyalty enters the narrative.
You can be sure that if Clark undergoes a resurgence at Villa, the very same users that were abusing him last week would be calling him a Judas if he accepted the advances of another suitor.
They may well be a loud minority -- reasonable Villa followers pointed out the absurdity of the messages directed at their academy graduate last week -- but the overall episode is hardly going to cement a player's love for the cause.
Naturally, those individuals who are in form receive loads of Twitter love from the masses.
James McCarthy is the darling of Everton fans just months after the vast majority were aggrieved at his capture because they favoured the acquisition of an overseas player they had only seen on YouTube as an alternative.
Seamus Coleman, the man of the moment, no longer monitors his account, but there was a time where emotional Toffees let him know directly about his defensive failings.
People are entitled to change their mind, of course, and the streetwise footballers are well aware of the hypocrisy.
For others, who are originally showered with virtual roses before encountering the reality, it's a shock to the system.
The Sunderland grumps turned on James McClean quickly enough and, while biting back was completely the wrong option, you can understand why the Derryman was bemused at the dramatic turnaround.
It seems an appropriate issue to raise in a month where footballers are castigated for their fickle behaviour.
Twitter has allowed them to realise that large swathes of their fans are as inconsistent with their affections.
Hibs put Fenlon Hearts failure in focus
IF Hibernian had enjoyed better results against Hearts when Pat Fenlon was manager, there's every chance the Dubliner would still be in the job.
From the Scottish Cup final loss in his first season to a pair of defeats at the start of this campaign, Fenlon suffered bruising defeats against the Jambos that checked positive momentum.
A penny, then, for Fenlon's thoughts as Hibs triumphed in last Thursday's Edinburgh derby. Two of his summer signings, James Collins and Liam Craig, were on target in an eventful 2-1 success at a packed Easter Road.
Hibs were the better side, yet they also had a bit of luck at crucial periods with a dreadful penalty concession giving them the three points.
Fenlon undoubtedly made mistakes, but he could have done with similar fortune at the start of this campaign.
Hoolahan will be in his element if Touted Villa move comes to Fruition
From an Ireland perspective, speculation that Wes Hoolahan is a transfer target for Aston Villa is an intriguing possibility, and the attraction to the Dubliner is obvious.
Hoolahan (right) has been involved in Chris Hughton's Premier League plans over Christmas but he's the most likely fall-guy when the Norwich boss changes his team and he could not be described as a regular.
Hughton, who has a stated preference for two out-and-out strikers, insisted that the playmaker missed their FA Cup date on Saturday through injury and denied that a bid has been received.
A switch to Villa would be the biggest of the 31-year-old's career, and he would be working under a manager who rated him at Carrow Road, and whose philosophy is flexible to utilising the talents of the former Shelbourne star. The only concern is that Paul Lambert's future is far from secure.
Bray rumours spark familiar panic
Just as it seemed the League of Ireland was entering the new year with reduced chaos levels, Bray Wanderers restored that familiar feeling of pre-season panic.
With uncertainty surrounding the future of manager Pat Devlin, rumours have spread like wildfire about the Seagulls' well-being, and their fans aren't the only ones waiting for clarity.
All we know for certain is that, while other clubs have made serious progress on assembling a squad for the forthcoming campaign, Bray have not.
Midfielder Gary Dempsey, who is in limbo, broadcast his confusion at developments as he sought reassurance that tales he was hearing weren't true.
There is also confusion over who will be in charge at UCD, where Martin Russell's future is clouded in uncertainty.
So much for a stable winter.