Why PNE defender cannot wait to face Villa

Preston skipper Tom Clarke will get his first chance to play at Villa Park this weekend against the club he supported as a youngster.

Tom Clarke grew up as 
an Aston Villa supporter
Tom Clarke grew up as an Aston Villa supporter

Clarke’s time as a player might have been divided between Huddersfield and PNE but his roots on one side of the family are in the West Midlands.

Hence Saturday’s clash with Aston Villa is one he has had ringed on the fixture list for some 

“This is another big game, another big stadium and it is one for my family to look forward to,” Clarke told the Evening Post.

“My grandad was born in the Aston area of Birmingham and was a Villa fan, so my dad tried to feed that down to us.

“It wasn’t religiously pushed on us but myself and my brother always had the Villa kits and grew up looking for their scores in the days when Gareth Southgate was in their defence.

“Quite a few of my family are going down to watch the game on Saturday.

“It is a game I’m looking forward to – I’ve never played at Villa Park before and hopefully we can get a good result. We beat them earlier in the season at our place and that was a great day.

“Although Villa were going through a difficult period at the time, you still looked through their 
squad and saw how strong it was.

“So to have put in a great performance against them in front of our fans was brilliant.”

North End will head down the M6 on the back of successive Championship wins against Brighton and Burton Albion, in which they kept clean sheets.

In between was the narrow FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, a game in which they gave a very good account of themselves and deserved a replay from.

Victory against a Brighton side who had started the day as league leaders, was a feather in the cap.

It was Clarke’s central defensive partner Paul Huntington who started the ball rolling on that victory, heading them into the lead, one which Callum Robinson later doubled.

Clarke, who was speaking at Deepdale as PNE were recognised by the EFL for fully complying with their diversity code of practice, said: “I was pleased for Hunts when he scored.

“As defenders, we are doing our best to contribute with a few goals.

“In Paul Gallagher, we have a player who can put set-pieces into dangerous areas, so we need to be getting ourselves on the end of them.

“Obviously, keeping clean sheets is the big thing for us and to have two on the bounce in the league is good.”

The fact North End managed to shut out Brighton owed a lot to a superb clearance from Clarke in the second half.

Inside his own six-yard box, he stretched to take a low cross away from the feet of 15-goal Albion striker Glenn Murray.

Said Clarke: “It was a great ball in from the wing because it was in an area which is a nightmare for defenders, a sort of corridor of uncertainty.

“In situations like that the ball can come off you and go into the net or it runs through to the striker.

“I managed to wrap my leg around it and knock it past Murray.

“Murray pulled me afterwards to say what a good clearance it was, he said it went in the one place where he couldn’t get anything on it.

“It is things like that which I enjoy as a defender, blocks and tackles give me just as much pleasure as a striker gets from scoring a goal.”