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Clean sheets a team effort, says Clark

Written by Dan King

Two clean sheets in a row have helped Newcastle United to pick up four vital Premier League points, but Ciaran Clark insists the Magpies' improved defensive displays have been a team effort.

The centre-back's partnership with captain Jamaal Lascelles was a key part of last season's Sky Bet Championship success, and the pair have been reunited for the past two games - a 0-0 draw against Brighton & Hove Albion and the 1-0 New Year's Day success at Stoke.

On the handful of occasions that the Potters were able to find a way through the United backline at the bet365 Stadium, they found goalkeeper Karl Darlow in excellent form as Ayoze Pérez's goal gave Rafa Benítez's men all three points.

And Clark told nufc.co.uk: "I think for every defender, that's their main aim; they want to keep clean sheets, and obviously the goalie.

"But as a team, that's what we've tried to do - it's not just the back four or five, it's the whole team working hard to try and keep the clean sheet and give ourselves the best opportunity to go up the other end and get a goal.

"As a team, we want to keep as many clean sheets as possible and we know that if we do manage that, we'll usually create chances that will give us a chance to win games.

"We did well against Brighton to keep a clean sheet but didn't manage to get an opportunity to score. But we created plenty on Monday and I think definitely deserved to win the game.

"I think we created the better chances - I know they piled on a lot of pressure towards the end of the game but throughout the game, I think we were the better team and deserved to win."

Newcastle played seven times during a busy December period, with Clark starting five of those fixtures.

Benítez has rotated his squad with so many games in such a short space of time, and seven points from the last four games is evidence that it has been a successful policy.

"I think the manager's done it really well," said Clark. "He's managed to use everyone in the tough games.

"With all the fixtures, it's been a tough month and when the squad's not as big as other teams, it obviously makes it more difficult but we're just trying to keep everyone fit and as fresh as possible for the games that are coming up and I think - touch wood - we've done a good job of that."

United climbed to 13th in the Premier League table following their win at Stoke. The Magpies are now just three points off Watford in tenth, but only a couple of points away from the bottom three and Clark said: "You see teams getting a win and they're jumping up a few places, and I think it's going be like that throughout the rest of the season.

"We can only concentrate on our own games and our own results. Hopefully now, from the results we've had, we can use that as a positive, push on now and use the form."

"It's been a tough month and when the squad's not as big as other teams, it makes it more difficult but we're just trying to keep everyone fit and as fresh as possible for the games that are coming up."

Ciaran Clark

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