Clark nears return to boost Newcastle's faltering push for promotion
Ciaran Clark is nearing a return to action for Newcastle, who have missed the Irish defender since the injury setback that also ruled him out of last month's World Cup qualifier with Wales.
Magpies manager Rafa Benitez said Clark is "close" to a return from a knee problem and there is optimism the centre-half can feature in Monday's Championship date with Preston.
The stats would suggest that promotion-chasing Newcastle need him back: Benitez's charges have lost five of the 11 matches Clark has missed this term.
They have taken just one point from their last three games with sloppy defending a feature of miserable away days at Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich.
Newcastle also conceded an injury-time equaliser at home to Leeds and have lost touch with Brighton, who have already sealed promotion to the Premier League.
Newcastle are six points clear of third-placed Reading with three games to go, but Huddersfield are a further point back with a game in hand and they can really put pressure on the pre-season favourites if they put together a winning run.
Clark has made a strong impression at St James' Park since joining from Aston Villa last summer.
He has also become increasingly important to Ireland boss Martin O'Neill and had formed a partnership with Shane Duffy - but both had to sit out the Wales game.
Doubts hang over Duffy's availability for the summer internationals as he has made a slower than expected recovery to a broken metatarsal and is unlikely to feature again for Brighton this term.
The Derry man has Premier League football to look forward to next season, with Brighton manager Chris Hughton indicating that he is not planning to overhaul his squad.
"I think what you are not able to do is make absolute wholesale changes. We know what has got us there and what's got us there is the spirit that we have and the quality that we have in the team," says Hughton.
"First and foremost we have a group of players that have excelled this season and that want to be involved.
"We have to respect that but also get the balances right. We want to be competitive in the division."
However, Richie Towell's future is uncertain. Brighton blocked loan moves for the ex-Dundalk midfielder in January but are unlikely to stand in his way if similar offers come in this summer.