There have been surprises this season and then there has been Ciaran Clark.
Fair to say that Newcastle fans had high expectations of the likes of Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie, when they arrived in the summer, but fair to say that when Rafa signed Ciaran Clark, the overwhelming reaction was, why?
A shaky debut and daft penalty given away to Reading didn’t help, then a no more than adequate display at left-back in the Bristol City appeared to compare matters.
This was a versatile squad player who could cover a number of positions (he can also play defensive midfield) but was clearly behind first choice pairing Mbemba and Lascelles, with Hanley also ahead of the former Villa man.
Next game was at QPR when multiple changes were made for the midweek match and a 6-0 win, despite the clean sheet and overwhelming scoreline, Rafa returned to a more normal line-up against Wolves, only for Lascelles and Mbemba to have nightmares in a 2-0 home defeat.
Next game at Villa, Ciaran Clark was back in and has been first choice ever since.
Clark says that to leave Aston Villa and come to a club like Newcastle was ‘massive, the quality he can see at Newcastle on the playing side, never mind the pleasure of playing in front of some twenty thousand more fans at St James Park (only 29,392 at Villa Park on Saturday for Steve Bruce’s latest home match).
Ciaran Clark has already previously stated on a number of occasions that Newcastle are a much bigger club than Aston Villa and he says that all the players need to do now is ‘keep it going’.
At Villa Park the defender never really totally established himself as clear first choice, never starting 30 league games in a season and overall playing no more than half the matches.
The Villa fans also had an up and down relationship with Clark, when he left it was ridiculous some of the over top comments slagging him off.
At somewhere he is appreciated, both NUFC and the player have seen the benefits. Ciaran Clark is Newcastle’s best defender every week and arguably is player of the season so far.
Newcastle fans have had far too many bad surprises in the past with signings who were expected to be major assets, nice to have one who has arrived with minimal expectations from supporters and proved us all wrong.
“The quality that is here…looking at that you think that we are going to have a right go this season and we have done so far.
“The fact that we’re winning games and the position that we’re in obviously helps, the fans are enjoying watching us play and it gives us a massive boost.
“It’s just an enjoyable place to be at the minute, at the training ground and the stadium – all we have to do is keep it going.
“We can’t get complacent because we’ve done nothing yet – it takes more than just quality players, it needs a strong bond between the lads and a good attitude.
“We’ve got a number of strikers that can play and all pose different threats. Dwight’s movement is top notch, he finds space and he is really clever.
“I’ve noticed that in training, as the other defenders have, when he gets in front of goal he isn’t afraid to pull the trigger and he will keep getting chances.
“If he doesn’t score it doesn’t affect him and he will keep going and going – he has been on fire this season and hopefully he can keep going.”