Tom falls behind in PNE defenders’ golden boot race

Tom Clarke heads the ball across goal for central defensive partner Paul Huntington to score against Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road
Tom Clarke heads the ball across goal for central defensive partner Paul Huntington to score against Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road
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Tom Clarke’s status as the main goal threat among the defenders in the Preston North End squad is seriously under threat.

The skipper was comfortably the leading goalscorer from PNE’s backline last season with six goals.

However, this campaign he has been left trailing in the wake of current central defensive partner Paul Huntington, who has become something of a goal machine of late.

Since winning his place back in the team – after spending the best part of nine months out of the side – Huntington has struck five goals in 15 appearances.

After hitting the winner at Gillingham in October, the tall defender notched once more the following week in the 2-0 win at Leyton Orient.

He then endured something of a goal drought for him, as he failed to score in his next six games. But Huntington put that right in the 2-0 win at former club Yeovil.

He then struck the only goal of the game in the next match – the 1-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup.

And was also on target again on Tuesday night as North End booked their place in the northern area final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy by defeating Notts County.

His current ratio of one goal every three games would please many strikers and Clarke – with tongue firmly in cheek – admits he is feeling a tad envious over his fellow defender’s potency in front of goal.

On a more serious note, the 26-year-old has been thrilled by Huntington’s goal return of late and is keen to add to his own tally of two goals this season.

He opened his account this campaign in the 2-0 win at Coventry in September and hit a late equaliser in the area quarter-final of the JPT at Oldham Athletic.

“Paul is a threat at set-pieces – he’s a big lad,” Clarke said.

“The ball is falling to him at the minute and to be fair, he’s putting them away. It’s just nice that we can contribute to the team.

“Obviously , we had Joe Garner who was scoring goals for fun but he’s out of the team now injured.

“That was a hard one to take because Joe has been on fire, he was putting the goals away and his all-round game was great.

“But as defenders, we just want to contribute. Our first and main aim is to keep clean sheets but if we can contribute in terms of goals – we will all be trying our best to do that.”

PNE boss Simon Grayson revealed that he was half expecting a knock on the door from Huntington asking for a new contract – as a striker!

“He will probably want a new deal based as a striker,” Grayson said.

“But he’s grabbed his opportunity.

“Forget the goals, his all-round performances have been very good.

“He has displayed a high standard of professionalism. His goals are a bonus.

“It’s a fanatstic ratio he has got but we have said all along, we don’t want to be a one-man band and rely on just one player.

“We are going to miss a player like Joe Garner – any team whether it’s the Premier, Championship, League One and Two would miss a player like him.

“But it’s down to all parties to come into the team and make sure that we continue scoring goals.

“Since Joe’s been out of the team, we’ve still had a successful run and still been scoring goals.

“Yeah we might have missed a few chances but Joe might have missed those chances.

“But like I say, we need other players to get their scoring boots on and in that respect, Hunts has been fantastic.

“We want other players to contribute as well.”

Clarke and Huntington may not get too many chances to threaten the opposition goalkeeper tomorrow as their first priority will be to protect their own No.1 Thorsten Stuckmann against Peterborough United’s tasty looking front two – Craig Mackail-Smith and Aaron McLean.

The pair returned to London Road shortly before the loan window shut last month, with Mackail-Smith arriving from Brighton, while McLean left Bradford City.

Clarke added: “The game tomorrow is important. We know it’s going to be a tough game.

“We remember the game there last year when we got beaten.

“They have just brought in a potent-looking strikeforce in Mackail-Smith and McLean, who they had before and helped them get out of this division

“Those two have good pace, they can score a goal and have played at a higher level.

“So it’s going to be very difficult – we will have to be very wary of those two but it’s a game we are looking forward to and expecting to do well in.”

Tomorrow’s game against Posh is Grayson’s 100th match in charge of PNE.

As a player who has worked under him for two different clubs, Clarke admits he enjoys Grayson’s style of management.

“I enjoy working under him,” he said. “When I knew he was interested in bringing me here, it was a no-brainer for me.

“His training, his philosophy and the way he works is everything that I like.

“He gets the balance right. He doesn’t get too worked up when we win or lose.”