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Preston North End skipper Tom Clarke says back to basics approach helped produce a welcome clean sheet

PNE skipper Tom Clarke
PNE skipper Tom Clarke

Preston North End’s win and clean sheet against Wigan was one met with an equal amount of joy and relief ahead of the current international break.

And Lilywhites skipper Tom Clarke admits it was the time for action rather than words after weeks of frustration and goals being leaked at an alarming rate.

Tom Clarke competes with Wigan's Will Grigg for the ball

Tom Clarke competes with Wigan's Will Grigg for the ball

“You looked back at the games we were conceding in and that couldn’t go on,” said Clarke.

“We couldn’t keep saying that luck was going against us and keep talking about ‘what ifs’.

“It was time to have a good result to show for all the hard work we put in on the training pitch.

“We produced a very good performance against Wigan, worked together as a unit and never looked like we were going to let the points slip from us.

Tom Clarke in action for PNE against Sheffield United

Tom Clarke in action for PNE against Sheffield United

“The run we’d previously had of conceding goals was so frustrating because that is just not us.

“We have always based ourselves on being solid so to see ourselves conceding all the time wasn’t nice.

“You often hear the phrase ‘going back to basics’ in football and that is what we did against Wigan and got our rewards.”

A run of defeats had been halted by a 3-3 draw against Aston Villa four days before PNE took on Wigan.

Tom Clarke challenges Bolton striker John Magennis

Tom Clarke challenges Bolton striker John Magennis

That point which could easily have been three and in equal measure quite easily none, perhaps served notice that a win wasn’t far away.

Clarke had watched the Villa game from the bench before regaining his place in the side against Wigan.

The defender said: “Our second-half performance at Villa was far better, much more like us.

“It was very much needed and gave us some more confidence.

“Yes, it was all a bit crazy at the end with the late penalty save but that night it felt like things were starting to come together a bit.

“To then go and play like we did against Wigan, with the clean sheet and four goals, sort of justified that way of thinking.

“We know that results before these last couple should have been better.

“We didn’t have too many problems in scoring goals but the other side of our game needed a lot of work.

“This league is an unforgiving one and mistakes get punished as we were finding out to our cost.

“It is a league which has improved too, clubs have been spending a lot of money to be as competitive as possible, even the ones who have come up.

“Teams are stronger and you really do have to work hard for your points.”

The Wigan game saw Clarke briefly reunited with former PNE team-mate and Deepdale favourite Joe Garner.

One of the reasons for Clarke’s recall was to match the aerial ability of Garner who had joined Wigan in the summer – via spells with Rangers and Ipswich.

As it was, Garner didn’t start the game, with him joining the action as a sub 20 minutes from time.

Said Clarke: “I thought Joe would start, be Wigan’s focal point up front.

“I spoke to him briefly at half-time and Joe told me he had 10 stitches in a cut on his head, so perhaps that is why he didn’t start.

“Joe was his usual self when he came on as a substitute but thankfully it was us who took the three points.”

Clarke was partnered in the centre of defence by Jordan Storey against Wigan.

That was a new pairing in the defence, North End boss Alex Neil having chopped and changed things at the back all season in a bid to find a winning formula.

The use of Clarke and Storey, with Darnell Fisher and Andrew Hughes in the full-back roles, was the ninth different back line used by Neil in the 12 league games to date.

With three combinations used in the League Cup too, it shows the extent of the chopping and changing.

It was at the start of the season where Neil stuck with the same defence.

Against Queens Park Rangers, Swansea and Stoke, the same back four of Fisher, Clarke, Ben Davies and Hughes was used.

But as the goals began to leak, Neil looked at different combinations but without any real success.

There was some surprise when Davies was dropped to the bench for the Wigan game, having been Preston’s best defender this term.

That said, Davies had still been part of a leaky defence and Neil felt it was time to look at something else.

It will be interesting to see who he picks when PNE resume action at Hull City on Saturday.

The taking of four points from two games has allowed the international break to be a more enjoyable time than it might have been.

Neil gave the players last Sunday and Monday off after the Wigan game before they were back in for three days training.

It will be a normal week in the build-up to the Hull game, the players away on international duty due back on Thursday.

Said Clarke: “You know that these breaks are there in the calendar and it is a case of making the best of them.

“It’s nice when you don’t have to dwell on a defeat for the best part of two weeks, instead we’ve been able to come into training on the back of a good win.

“We’ve had a bit of rest and done plenty of work.”