IT’S FAIR to say Lee Clark has been counting down the days until 2011.
Frustrated by defeats in the two League I festive fixtures so far, the manager is desperate to get three points on the board when Town kick off the New Year at Carlisle United this afternoon.
It’s the first of four clashes with the Cumbrians over the next six weeks, with Town back at Brunton Park for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern final first leg on Tuesday, January 18 before Galpharm meetings in the league on Tuesday, February 1 and Trophy seven days later.
But Clark is only looking to 5.00 today, by which time he hopes to have collected a third consecutive win at Carlisle.
Town notched a 2-1 league victory there in February and won 1-0 in the first round of the Carling Cup in August.
And Clark, delighted to have added Hull City’s highly experienced Republic of Ireland international midfielder Kevin Kilbane to his squad for the remainder of the campaign, said: “Our last two trips up there have brought wins and we have to remember how we achieved them – through hell of a lot of hard work.
“On both occasions, Carlisle gave us very tough games, in fact every time I’ve come up against them, home or away, they’ve worked us unbelievably hard.
“Our work ethic, determination and desire has to be the starting point, and one thing’s for certain, no team can afford to carry any passengers there.”
Beaten 1-0 by Hartlepool at the Galpharm on Boxing Day and 4-1 at Southampton on Tuesday, fourth-placed Town are chasing an 11th win of the season in their 22nd league game.
“It’s not been a good festive period for us so far,” continued Clark, whose team host Sheffield Wednesday in front of the Sky cameras on Monday lunchtime (12.15).
“Boxing Day was a big disappointment, because you don’t expect to lose your home games.
“And while you know Southampton away will be tough, you prepare properly and go there with a plan which you believe will bring success.
“I watched the DVD of the match on my own, then with the players, and a fair scoreline at half-time would have been 3-3.
“At 2-1 down, we were trying to stay in the game but gave an absolutely woeful third goal away in terms of conceding a cheap set-piece. When you give them away in those areas, you know can get punished.
“Now we have to stabilise things and get back on course by standing up to be counted and facing the situation. We have to go head to head with Carlisle and really take them on.”
While Clark continues to have to deal with the effects of illness within his squad, he’s optimistic Tom Clarke will be available.
The versatile 23-year-old was taken off after 70 minutes of his comeback game at St Mary’s after feeling a niggle in his thigh (having been absent after knee surgery).
“I thought Tom did really well considering the tempo of the game and the time he’d been out,” explained Clark.
“But he’d cramped up, which is understandable, and I couldn’t take the risk of it turning into a pull and him being sidelined again.
“It was a case of get him off the pitch, and unfortunately it restricted my options because I had been wanting to get Jordan Rhodes on.”
While Town have turned out twice already this week, Carlisle last played on December 11, losing 2-0 at home to Dagenham and Redbridge.
Southampton hadn’t played since the same day, and Clark added: “It seemed to have helped them, so we’ll be wary.”