Divided loyalties for ex-Norwich City and Newcastle United stalwart Lee Clark
PUBLISHED: 09:55 31 March 2016 | UPDATED: 10:12 31 March 2016
You could be forgiven for thinking Lee Clark will watch Saturday’s results roll in through his fingers.
Keep your cool
“It’s all about who keeps their nerve, especially in the big games,” says Clark. “There’s three of four massive matches coming up, and Saturday is one of them, where you’ve got sides in and around the bottom playing each other. Norwich versus Newcastle is crucial. These are the games you’ve just got to win. Any other points, like Norwich drawing against Man City, are just a bonus.”
A Canaries’ win against Newcastle on Saturday would leave the Magpies six points adrift of Alex Neil’s squad. Sunderland, currently two points behind Norwich, host West Brom.
While he’s got far more pressing issues trying to keep Kilmarnock in the Scottish Premiership, the boyhood Newcastle fan will be quick to find out how his beloved Geordies have fared at Norwich City. But he’ll do so with a heavy heart knowing a precious away win at Carrow Road will only serve to heap pain on another one of his former clubs.
Clark made more than 200 appearances during two stints with Newcastle – where he later became part of the coaching set-up and served as Sam Allardyce’s assistant – yet grew fond of the Canaries after 12 months in Norfolk as Glenn Roeder’s right-hand man.
If that 2007-08 period offered happy memories, so did a surprise spell, initially, with Sunderland as a player, leaving Clark hating every second of the current Premier League relegation battle that looks like to end sadly for two of his former employers.
The 43-year-old said: “I wish it wasn’t this way with these three clubs down at the bottom.
“Newcastle are my club, I had two good seasons at Sunderland (1997-99) and I had a fantastic time at Norwich. It’s a fantastic club with fantastic supporters. I really wish it wasn’t down to these three and I think it will be two of them who join Aston Villa in going down, unless another team gets sucked in. It’s a possibility I suppose.
“If you look at the table, if Norwich and Sunderland (West Brom at home) both win at the weekend and Palace (West Ham at home) fail to get a result it would really put the pressure on them.”
Wallsend-born Clark experienced plenty of highs during a seven-year stay at St James’ Park from 1990. Spells with Sunderland and Fulham followed before the classy midfielder went back to where it all began in 2005 to wind down his playing days.
After earning his coaching spurs at Newcastle, Clark moved to Norwich in November 2007 before going on to manage Huddersfield Town, Birmingham City, Blackpool and Kilmarnock – a post which began last month.
Fellow manager Rafa Benitez’s reign at Newcastle started even more recently as he aims to haul the north-east giants out of trouble. He’s yet to win and his third game in charge comes in what is a crucial showdown at Norwich City on Saturday.
“Momentum and form is key and Norwich have got it,” added Clark of Alex Neil’s Canaries, who have picked up four points from their last two games to move two points above the bottom three.
“They will be feeling positive and it is in their own hands with the games they’ve got at home against Newcastle and Sunderland. Rafa Benitez has brought a really good positivity back to Newcastle. But you can’t say it (the struggles) haven’t been coming for Newcastle and Sunderland.
“They’ve got to learn from their mistakes. They’ve kept on hanging around the wrong end of the table for quite a few years now and they’ve had chances to make sure that doesn’t happen. Newcastle stayed up on the final day of last season and have spent something like £94million this season. Are they any better now? That’s debatable.
“They’ve got to find out what’s happening if they stay up and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
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