Saturday 16 December 2017

Early winner a bonus for Clark as clean sheet delights defensive duo

Republic of Ireland's Ciaran Clark and Switzerland's Michael Lang battle for the ball in the air. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Republic of Ireland's Ciaran Clark and Switzerland's Michael Lang battle for the ball in the air. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The spectre of relegation with struggling Aston Villa had no effect on defender Ciaran Clark's performance in winning his 18th cap at the Aviva Stadium last night.

Clark, partnered by the equally impressive Shane Duffy, anchored the defensive effort by the Irish and, as a bonus, he snatched the winning goal.

The headed effort arrived early, as Clark nodded home the ball from Duffy's first headed attempt following a corner in the third minute. Switzerland were physical and at times some last-ditch tackles were required to protect Darren Randolph's goal but the Republic's back line held firm.

Clark was pleased with the performance, personally and as a back four unit.

"It was a good 90 minutes. I got off to a pretty good start with the goal and while they had a lot of possession, I felt we were fairly comfortable throughout the game," he said.

"Yeah, personally it was obviously good to get a goal, but as defenders we judge ourselves on clean sheets, and that was just as important as far as I'm concerned."

The Clark/Duffy axis looked as if it could have a future and both players were very pleased with the understanding they reached in their first match as a central defensive pairing. "Shane's a brilliant player, and we struck up a good partnership there and I felt we looked pretty comfortable throughout," said Clark.

Duffy echoed those sentiments, saying: "It's only one game but it was good. We clicked. He plays on the left, I play on the right. We've got so many good centre-halves here it's hard to get close to the squad. You never know."

Considering this was only his second cap, and he had not made a senior team appearance in two years, what had changed for Duffy?

"Just consistency. I am playing regularly and maturing as a centre-half. The way I am, the more games I play, the better I get. I was slightly raw two years ago, I still am, but listen, I am playing every weekend, I am enjoying it, I am thriving coming here. I am just trying to impress the manager and the players."

Duffy's form with Blackburn Rovers has put him in a good place and yet he hardly dares to dream of a place with the Republic squad in France.

"Everyone here wants to play but the lads who have got us to the Euros are obviously there. They have done all the hard work so you can't just come in and take it.

"I've got to bide my time and if it isn't this one, hopefully it is the next campaign. I've just got to focus on club football and try and come in and impress."

Skipper for the night was Seamus Coleman, and the Everton defender had no illusions or thoughts of complacency, despite being a senior squad member.

"It's all about coming in and trying to perform as well as you can for the manager and the backroom staff. The lads that have come in have done very well. We all have to keep playing well when we go back to our clubs, and make sure we're on that plane," said Coleman.

Irish Independent

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