THE last few years have been frustrating for both Town and Tom Clarke – but the versatile Galpharm star sees light at the end of the tunnel for both himself and his team.
The 22-year-old academy product made a welcome appearance as a substitute as Lee Clark’s side completed a happy Easter, and consolidated their place in the League I play-off zone, with Tuesday’s 2-0 home win over Oldham Athletic.
It was an 18th appearance of the season and 79th Town outing in all for Clarke, who has been a fixture in the matchday 18 ever since regaining full fitness after a niggly knee problem back in December.
Now the Halifax-born player, who won rave reviews for his early-season performances in midfield before injury struck, is hoping to feature at Brentford as sixth-placed Town chase a third successive win and a fourth in five games – and produce a more fluent performance than they did against Oldham.
Town’s struggle to counter the visiting midfield was a big factor in Clarke’s 62nd-minute introduction in place of 21-goal leading marksman Jordan Rhodes, with the Town management particularly concerned about the influence of impressive Latic Dale Stephens.
“Basically, the manager told me to go out there and get stuck in,” explained former England junior international Clarke, who made his Town debut at 17 in the 2-1 League I defeat at MK Dons in February 2005.
“It was a tough match. Oldham came with a good game-plan, stuck three in the midfield and worked hard and passed the ball well.
“We were winning 1-0 but they were starting to get into it when I came on, and my aim was just to stop them doing that and help the lads whatever way I could.
“It was one those matches where we had to get our heads down, work hard to press the opposition and win headers and tackles.
“We just had to dig in and ensure we won the game. We did that, scored two goals and managed to keep a clean sheet, and I was pleased to be able to do my bit.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but at this stage of the season, performances tend to get pushed to one side.
“It’s results that matter. If they come with a good performance, that’s doubly good, but the three points are the most important thing, and those we got on Tuesday were massive for us.”
Town are now three points clear of closest rivals Colchester, who have yet to come to the Galpharm, in the final play-off place, and Clarke continued: “We’ve got into a winning mentality and we have to kick on from here and make it count.”
While Town chase a third successive away win at Brentford (after Leyton Orient and Wycombe Wanderers), the Oldham win was their first at home in seven attempts.
“Football can be funny, because having started to turn around our fortunes away from home by getting some great results at some tough places, our home results dipped,” said Clarke.
“We only lost the one (to leaders Norwich City), but we were struggling to turn draws into wins, and I think we deserved the breaks we got against Oldham.”
James Berrett also came off the bench to bolster the midfield effort on Tuesday, and Clarke added: “He did well. Even though we haven’t been starting matches we’ve never felt on the sidelines, because the management go out of their way to keep us together.
“We’re all together striving for the same thing – to go up to the next level – and everyone in the squad has their part to play.
“We all train properly every session in order to keep fit and sharp, because you never know what’s around the corner. One break can be all you need to become a regular in the starting side.”