Preston North End captain Tom Clarke says Port Vale’s attempts to rattle Joe Garner backfired as the striker starred in PNE’s 2-0 win.
Garner led the line and played a key role in North End’s first goal as his diagonal run allowed Neil Kilkenny to tee up Paul Gallagher, who fired home in the 42nd minute.
Vale defender Stephane Zubar – who also appeared to elbow Garner in the 12th minute – received his marching orders for seeming to jab the striker’s face as he lay on the ground in the 78th minute.
Now Clarke has warned other League One teams that targeting the striker will only spur him on.
He said: “Joe led the line superbly. No matter how many people whack him, it sort of makes him play better.
“People will keep whacking him in the back and he will keep getting up and scoring or creating chances.
“The more you do it to him the more it riles him up in a good way and he goes on to create chances and cause havoc to centre-halves in this league.”
And Clarke praised the fourth official for flagging up the incident.
He said: “Obviously I didn’t really see the incidents throughout the game but you can hear the crowd and look over to the bench and see their reaction.
“I think with the incident in which Zubar got sent off, it was the fourth official that had seen it.
“It is good that they are speaking out and seeing what is going on back there.”
But despite the furore, Clarke was pleased to keep a clean sheet and believes PNE can go on a long unbeaten run if they maintain their current balance between attack and defence.
He said: “I’m delighted with a clean sheet. I thought we played well. We work hard all week in training on defence units and we know Vale had a lot of threat up front.
“I think they started really well so we had to weather it a little bit early on.
“But with the front four that we have we are always going to create chances.
“And so long as we keep that back door shut I don’t see many teams beating us.
“We need that balance and it has worked today.”
The defender nearly scored a signature back-post header in the second half and admitted he was unhappy not to score. He said: “I misjudged it, great ball in from Gally he knows were I’m going to be at the back stick but I just got up too early and I was disappointed it didn’t go in.”
Bailey Wright was rested due to an ongoing groin problem and Clarke praised Jack King for slotting in alongside him at centre back. He said: “Kingy is very versatile and he is no stranger to playing centre-half. He’s very vocal and good on the ball and that is what we need.
“The gaffer has created a great squad – when players come out, other players come in and do a great job and that is something we will need to get pushing up the league.”
Clarke is determined to maintain PNE’s winning streak and is relishing the busy period.
He said: “I can’t wait to play tomorrow against Gillingham. We’ve had a rest and the games are coming thick and fast now.
“We just want to keep the momentum going – we are coming off five back-to-back wins and we have some tough fixtures coming up and we are travelling quite a bit, so we’re just gearing up for that now.”