Tom back in the thick of it for PNE

Tom Clarke will move back to the centre of defence
Tom Clarke will move back to the centre of defence
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Tom Clarke is looking forward to finding some middle ground when Preston North End resume action after the international break against Port Vale on Saturday.

The 26-year-old will move back into the centre of defence for the Deepdale clash after filling in at 
right-back in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win over Vale 10 days ago.

While right-back was the role he filled when he first joined PNE, Clarke regards himself as a central defender first and foremost. He was pressed into action at right-back in the absence of Scott Wiseman and Calum Woods for the JPT tie.

Wiseman’s return from international duty with Gibraltar will see the right-back slot filled this weekend, Woods having missed out last time because of a hamstring strain.

Clarke told the Evening Post: “I’m comfortable with playing at right-back and have done that a few times, especially when I came here at the start of last season.

“But the majority of my time at PNE and during my career has been spent in the centre of defence.

“I regard centre-half as being my strongest position – that is where I started and played for England 
Under-18s and 19s there.

“When I signed for Preston, the gaffer knew I could play in other positions, having been my manager at Huddersfield.

“He knew I could provide cover at right-back but it was centre-half where he wanted to play me.

“It didn’t do me any harm going to right-back for the Port Vale game last week.

“We needed someone to play out there and I was able to get a slightly different view of things.

“Most of the lads in the squad are quite versatile.”

Clarke will be looking to mark moving back to the middle with a return to keeping clean sheets.

After conceding six goals in two games after the last international break, North End recorded successive shut-outs against Crawley and Coventry.

They then conceded two goals in the Colchester and Vale matches but won them both.

Said Clarke: “We work hard on trying to keep clean sheets and the two we got in the Crawley and Coventry games were very welcome.

“The Colchester game was a bit different and it was disappointing to concede twice like we did.

“Fair play to Colchester – they were a very attacking side who got players into positions to hurt us.

“Thankfully the lads did the business at the other end of the pitch, as they did against Port Vale.

“What we ideally want is to link everything together, get the clean sheet and produce some good attacking play at the other end of the pitch.

“We work as a unit here – we all contribute to keeping clean sheets and scoring goals.”

North End have, in the main, stuck with their usual training routine during the international break.

According to Clarke, the work at Springfields has been pretty intense as they bid to maintain the momentum built up by four wins on the bounce.

“We were in after the last game for a couple of days, then had the weekend off and this week has been the normal routine,” said Clarke.

“The training on Monday and Tuesday was tough and it will be scaled back a bit in the run-up to Saturday.

“It was nice to have a couple of days off to get some rest because the fixture list is busy over the next few weeks.

“We have a lot of games and a lot of travelling, so having a breather might not have been a bad thing.”