Preston skipper hoping for strong start to year at Deepdale against Middlesbrough

Tom Clarke was delighted to be Preston’s match winner in the last game of 2017 and hopes for a strong start to 2018 against Middlesbrough today.

The skipper found the net with a 90th minute header at Cardiff on Friday night.

Tom Clarke celebrates scoring PNE's winner at Cardiff

Tom Clarke celebrates scoring PNE's winner at Cardiff

With three points in the bag from the trip to Wales, the focus is now on Boro’s visit to Deepdale this afternoon, the Teessiders arriving with new manager Tony Pulis in tow.

Clarke said: “It was great to score the goal and I thought we deserved the win.

“The corner came in, Paul Huntington got a good header at the front post, I think there was another chance before the ball fell to me.

“I was just thankful that I got enough on it and the ball ended-up in the net because the lads had put a right shift in.

“It’s been another quick turnaround since then, we’ve had a couple of days recovering and getting ready for Boro.

“They’ll come here with a new manager and probably playing a different way.

“It will be a physical game, under Garry Monk they were a passing team but Tony Pulis will have them organised.”

Clarke was PNE’s first and last goalscorer of 2017, with him having been on target in the January 2 win at Burton.

In between, he had seven months on the sidelines with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The Cardiff win was his fifth start since coming back and the 30-year-old is pleased with how his fitness is.

He sat out the Boxing Day draw at Barnsley as something of a precaution, returning in good shape on Friday.

“I’m getting there with each game,” said Clarke.

“The gaffer pulling me out at Barnsley was the smart thing to do because I felt fresh at Cardiff and was still going strong at the end.”

While Clarke is recently back from his injury, another long-term casualty who made his return at Cardiff was Greg Cunningham.

The left-back had been out since August after having an operation to reattach a tendon to the hamstring muscle in his left leg.

Cunningham got through 83 minutes on Friday before Calum Woods took over for the closing stages.

Clarke was pleased to see the Irishman back in the fold, knowing only too well the work that goes in to recover from a serious injury.

“It was a massive lift to see Greg out there, he is a great character,” said Clarke.

“The performance he put in was testament to how hard he has worked these last few months.

“We are a group who work hard for one another and all the lads are delighted to see Greg back among us.

“There is a tough run of games coming up and we want as many of the lads involved to play their part in trying to get some good results.”