TOM CLARKE is hoping to finish another frustrating season on a high.

The 20-year-old has managed only 10 first-team appearances over the last two campaigns after suffering an injury which led to a knee reconstruction.

Clarke’s now back to full fitness – he played nine times during a recent loan stint at Blue Square (Conference) club Halifax – and will be in the matchday squad at Port Vale tomorrow now that Frank Sinclair’s is ruled out by an ankle injury which needs a scan.

“I feel far better for the Halifax experience,” said Clarke, who comes from Sowerby Bridge, just a couple of miles from The Shay.

“I made nine appearances – more than I thought I would – and other than getting a dead leg, which was frustrating, my fitness and sharpness have improved as a result.

“I could have stayed longer, but having been told spending a month there would put me back in contention at Town, I really wanted to come back.

“I wanted to be in and around the club and be able to show how eager I am to get back into the first-team frame.”

Clarke, who along with elder brother Nathan signed a new contract during Gerry Murphy’s first spell as caretaker chief, was shocked by Andy Ritchie’s departure.

And while he has terms through to the end of next season, with an option for another 12 months, the England junior international accepts he has it all to do to prove his worth to whoever takes over.

“It’s a new start for everyone, and we’ll all be doing our best to make sure were in the new manager’s plans,” said Clarke, who played as the reserves beat Nottingham Forest 2-0 at the Galpharm on Wednesday.

“People might have been told one thing by the old manager, but clearly that no longer holds true.

“Like Gerry Murphy says, he could well be watching us at the moment, and that makes it all the more important for me to force my way in.”