Matthew Clarke programme article

Posted : 8th November 2019

Persistent Linfield defender Matthew Clarke has forced his way back into the team this season and he says it’s great to be back involved – but he knows he’s got a fight on his hands to keep the shirt, such is the competition for places at Windsor Park.

“It’s tough, if you’re sitting on the bench because everyone wants to be playing but it’s important that the boys are getting results, above all else. We have a big squad and have a lot of quality as well, so you have to understand that you’ll not play every game. As a player, you know you’re maybe just one or two bad games away from a spell on the bench but that’s good for us. It’s good for competition levels and helps keep your performances high, when you know your place is constantly under threat.

“It’s good to be back out there, as I was disappointed not to play against Coleraine. Saturday was a good result at home against Carrick because we’re out of league action now for a week or two. It was vital to put three points on the board last week, given that other teams will play this weekend while we play Dundalk. I think if we win our games in hand, we’ll be on top, or certainly not far off it, so it’s important that we keep ticking the games off and doing our job.”

In his six years at the Club, Clarke had only ever played as a left back. However, in recent weeks, he’s taken up new roles. David Healy’s switch to a back three has seen the 25 year-old perform as a wing-back and as a central defender – something which he has embraced.

“It’s grand playing different roles – I’d play in nets for Linfield, if I was asked! I don’t mind, as long as I am playing. I don’t care where I play. I feel I’ve done alright, wherever I’ve been asked to play. I enjoyed the wing-back role and last week, I enjoyed playing as a left centre half.”

The Castlederg native scored the winner in a 3-2 Europa League 3rd round 2nd leg tie against FK Sutjeska of Montenegro on what was his 200th appearance for the club back in August and he played in all but one of Linfield’s European matches during a historic run. Clarke says the memories will live on, but the response since then has been a good one.

“The European campaign was hard to describe. It was absolutely unbelievable. We came so close to reaching the group stages and despite the quality of the opposition we played, we stood up to every one of the teams. The transition from Europe back to domestic action is massive because in Europe you’ve more options and time on the ball. Irish League football is 90 mph and you don’t get time on the ball but I think we’ve made the transition back into domestic action well, but it is always difficult. I remember in my first season here, we came off the back of a good campaign and I think the first match was against Cliftonville at Windsor and we lost 4-2 which was a rude awakening. The two styles and tempos really are completely different.”

“It’s been a tough month, with all the extra games and trying to balance our own jobs on top of it. We’ve been playing Saturday and Tuesday for the last five or six weeks which has been tough on all of us who work. You just have to keep going because you know what’s required of you and you have to keep winning games. We’ve got through that busier spell now but we will still have to win those games in hand.”

Looking ahead to tonight’s Unite the Union Champions Cup match, the former Rangers man believes it will be a great occasion and hopes that the supporters can help the team against a formidable Dundalk outfit, who come into the game off the back of losing the FAI Cup final on penalties to Shamrock Rovers.

“We will take Dundalk seriously. Dundalk are a real quality outfit but so are we. Just look at the quality of players in our changing room. We are more than capable of getting a result, no doubt about that in my mind. We’ll treat it seriously like any other game. Likewise, Dundalk will be aiming to end their season on a high.

“I think this is an attractive fixture and hopefully, there’ll be a big turnout – especially with it being on a Friday night at home. They’re the champions of the League of Ireland and we’re the champions of Northern Ireland, so it’s a big game and a big tie. I’d imagine Dundalk will bring a big following as well but hopefully our fans will drive us on.”

Best wishes to Matthew and all his team mates in tonight’s hugely anticipated tie between the two champion clubs on the island of Ireland.
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