This season has been the season of the comebacks here at Villa Park. We have seen the unbelievable comeback of Alan Hutton, who has come from the abyss of the bomb squad to player of the season so far. The likes of N’Zogbia and Bent have found themselves back in first team contention (although the latter now finds himself out on loan). There has also been the comeback of Joe Cole…to the treatment room.
The best comeback this season in my mind however, has been the rebirth of one Ciaran Clark. I once named him Ciaran ‘calamity’ Clark as I felt that every time he played he was a mistake waiting to happen. This season has been a different story altogether for the Irish centre-back. In the nine games he has played he has looked assured and dominant; especially beside Jores Okore.
The timing of this improvement could not have come at a better time with the ongoing injury crisis and the ever nearing loss of Ron Vlaar. But what has changed for Clarke to become this stalwart?
He’s found his partner in crime
Having started the season occasionally filling in for injured centre-back colleges it was unspectacular business as usual for Clark. Partly, it was due to never having an established centre-half partner, so he’s never had a chance to forge an understanding.
Some how Lambert rated Clark above Jores Okore as the fourth in the pecking order. After the impressive clean sheet away to West Ham by Villa’s first choice three centre-backs, they haven’t started for Villa since due to injury. In stepped Clark and Okore and within the space of five games, now some Villa fans regard it as the team’s best partnership. It’s never conceded over a goal a game, which is impressive in the context of Villa defences.
He has become a man
A cliché I know, but hear me out. The way he presents himself on the pitch now is one of authority and confidence. The Irishman used to wander the pitch with no real purpose and tentatively went into challenges. Now however, he fully commits to tackles and aerial duels typified by the best tackle of the season against Leicester which nearly sent Ulloa back to Argentina.
He has become a leader
If you just watch Clark in a game this season he is commanding figure, leading the back line and commanding when to step up and when to press. It’s almost like he has seen himself as the experienced defender (in terms of Villa appearances) in the current back four, so has took it on himself to be the leader. This took maturity and bravery, especially with the run the team were on at the time.
Clark used to be captain material at Villa youth level and is finally showing the seeds of being such for the first team, although it’s early days yet.
Found his role
In previous seasons he has been used as a left-back when Villa had the great full-back shortage of the last five years. Clark has also been tried in a holding midfield role in the past and frankly looked awkward and lost in this role. This term he has found his home in the centre of defence. It is not only the position of centre-half that he is finding more comfortable but the type of centre-half he is playing as. In the past he has been given the role of the ball-playing defender, which I don’t think suits him. Alongside Okore, who excels with the ball at his feet, Clark can play the more ball-winning defender and marshal of the back four.
Clark has always had goals in his locker as a centre-back. If he played regularly, a defender who could contribute five or so goals a season would be very useful to Villa.
Finally…his confidence is beaming
All these factors have led to the Irish centre-half playing with a new-found belief. I have always felt that Clark has played within himself and was almost in the shadows during games. However, now he looks to dominate attackers and assert himself on games. He has gone from being seen as a liability to being half of potentially Villa’s best partnership.
A comeback that rivals Lazarus and one we truly needed and long may it continue.
Follow Ash on Twitter at – @bannyboy95