Exclusive Sean Gregan Preston North End column: Tom Clarke will cope with criticism

It was interesting to see club captain and PNE stalwart Tom Clarke cop a bit of flak last weekend after the derby draw against Blackburn Rovers.

Friday, 17th January 2020, 4:00 pm
Preston North End captain Tom Clarke battling Blackburn's Stewart Downing

At 32, he is still young but in football terms, I suppose he is edging towards veteran status. He was at fault for the goal North End gave away at Ewood Park and he has taken a bit of stick for that in certain quarters.

I have heard a few comments from fans and read a few pieces in the Press that Clarke might be getting to a stage where he might not quite be up to the task.

No doubt injuries have affected him in recent years – no longer is he the first name on the teamsheet as he once was and he’s been usurped in central defence – his favourite position – by Patrick Bauer and Ben Davies.

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When he has played this season, it has usually been at right-back, which by his own admission is not his best spot in the team.

I think Clarke will always be a favourite among the fans because of what he has done for the club in his near seven-year spell at Deepdale. But it is never nice to get stick or criticism from the fans.

I had a spell when I was at Leeds United when the fans were on my back and I’ll be honest, it can get you down. You need to be a tough character and I am sure Tom is. He’s played a lot of games over his career, particularly for Preston, and it can be hard. I am sure he will deal with it.

All I will say to the fans is if you do want to voice your displeasure or discontent – do it at half-time or full-time.

When the game’s going on and you’re trying to do your best, it can be very difficult to deal with.

As footballers you have to be thick-skinned. I suppose when I played, social media wasn’t like it is now.

I was never on social media and I am still not on social media. It’s all a bit of a craze now and it’s a platform for keyboard warriors to have a go at you.

It can be difficult to deal with but you’ve just got to ignore it and Tom’s experienced enough to do that.

I am sure he is still a very important member of the squad and will play a key role from now until the end of the season.

Talking of key individuals, it was good to hear that midfielder Daniel Johnson is close to a comeback.

The fact that he is still North End’s leading goalscorer having missed a big chunk of the season, just goes to show how important he is.

Goals have been hard to come by in recent games and so his imminent return will be very welcome for boss Alex Neil. He gives the team something different, a bit of quality in the final third.

He’s a goal threat, as well as well as a creative influence and I am looking forward to seeing him combine with Scott Sinclair.

It’s Charlton at home this weekend and it is the first of a run of games where PNE are playing teams predominantly near the bottom.

Barnsley, Wigan and Stoke City are also in the bottom six currently and it’s a chance to put some points on the board.

But as we all know the Championship is the most competitive league in the world and nothing is easy.