'An unbelievable feeling' - Clark elated after United late show
Written by Rory Mitchinson
Ciaran Clark hailed Newcastle United’s never-say-die attitude as the Magpies left it late to see off Chelsea and earn their first Premier League win for almost a month.
United had just 30 per cent of the ball against Frank Lampard’s side but, not for the first time this season, they managed to keep their opponents at arm’s length before landing a sucker punch at the opposite end of the pitch.
The Magpies also conceded a significant amount of possession in their games against Manchester City, Southampton and Crystal Palace before Christmas but, on each of those occasions, they picked up vital points by scoring late in the day.
And it was a similar story against the fourth-placed Blues, with centre half Clark – starting a game at St. James’ Park for the first time since that victory against the Saints – admitting that marksman Isaac Hayden could hardly have picked a better time to make the breakthrough.
“It was brilliant,” he beamed, speaking to nufc.co.uk after the full-time whistle. “Obviously as the time was going on and we could see the clock going down, we were just thinking: ‘Hold on – 0-0 against Chelsea at home would be brilliant.’ But we managed to get a break down one of the sides and get a corner, and in the last couple of minutes you’re thinking: ‘Right, there’s a chance here now – we could go and get something.’ First the corner got cleared but it was a great ball back in, Isaac was there and it was a great finish. It was the perfect time to score.
“We’ve got that attitude where we want to keep going until the final whistle is blown. When we’re in a position like that – 0-0 with five or ten minutes to go – we’re thinking: ‘Let’s not concede now and blow the hard work we’ve done.’ That feeling when the goal goes in and you’re 1-0 up with a minute or two to play, it’s just unbelievable. If we’d come off the pitch with a draw we’d have been happy, but to come off with three points is just massive for us and a great boost going into the next game.
“We had a couple of chances first half but maybe not so much second half – it was more about defending and trying to stay compact. There wasn’t anything clear cut but Chelsea are a great side. They’ve got great quality going forward and their movement is top drawer – behind the midfield and in front of defenders, that’s where they hurt you; they pull you out into positions you don’t want to go. Today we showed that we were in good positions and when someone wasn’t in the right position we had people covering. It was a real team effort and we felt like we deserved it in the end.”
After a number of games out, Clark has slotted back into United’s five-man backline seamlessly over the last seven days, joining Federico Fernández and another recent returnee, skipper Jamaal Lascelles, against Chelsea.
All six of the Magpies’ established centre halves have figured at some point so far in 2020, and Clark acknowledged that each of the half dozen in question feel – and look – very much at ease with the system they’re asked to play.
“I think it’s something we’re all comfortable with – we all know our roles and what’s expected of us in those positions,” he said. “It’s one of those things – we’ve had a lot of injuries, and people can come back in and play their part and fit in. We train every day and work on stuff like that in training. We’re all comfortable, and it’s about the competition now. Once everyone can get fit and get training again, it’s going to be good for the team that we’ve got that back again and the numbers in the squad back up.
“I feel great. Obviously I got injured against Southampton, which was disappointing after having a good run of games and going into a busy period where, as I say, we seemed to pick up a lot of injuries. But, as a footballer, you get injured, you have to deal with it and it’s about when it’s right to come back. I felt like I was OK for the last game against Wolves and I managed to get through that, and it was obviously a good result there. To come back in again today and get the win is brilliant, and to get a clean sheet is something that, as a defender, you always want to do.”
"That feeling when the goal goes in and you’re 1-0 up with a minute or two to play, it’s just unbelievable. If we’d come off the pitch with a draw we’d have been happy, but to come off with three points is just massive for us and a great boost going into the next game."