Belfast Telegraph

Clark keen to hold on to his starting place and guide Irish to France

By Daniel McDonnell

When Martin O'Neill chopped his first provisional squad of the Euro 2016 campaign, Ciaran Clark was one of the players to miss out.

The Aston Villa defender didn't make a single appearance for the Republic in 2014. Injuries were a factor, but his absence from the first 12 months of the road to France was barely noted because there was a sense that he was down the pecking order.

It raised questions about how management viewed the centre half's progression given that O'Neill had given him his senior debut at club level.

In a short space of time, his standing has improved dramatically, a point that was illustrated by O'Neill picking the 26-year-old to sit next to him in the pre-match press conference for tonight's decider with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"I wouldn't say it is a position I've expected to be in at all," admitted Clark, who took his chance in September's double-header with Gibraltar and Georgia when Marc Wilson was unavailable.

Despite missing October's double-header drama against Germany and Poland, he was entrusted with responsibility when John O'Shea was forced to sit out Friday's first leg in Zenica and warmed to the task.

Clark added: "This comes from working hard and trying to play week in, week out at club level. I suppose only then, if you're doing well, the bosses and the staff will be watching. I'm obviously very privileged to be involved and happy to be part of the squad."

Clark did take confidence from Friday's overall display, although he modestly declined to discuss the quality of his own contribution. He felt that the Republic were adept at dealing with whatever Bosnia-Herzegovina had to offer, which is why the late concession to danger-man Edin Dzeko was such a source of frustration.

"I felt we dealt with them quite comfortably, we've managed to keep them quiet for most of the game" he said. "It was disappointing to concede so late on but we've picked ourselves up and have come back prepared as best as we can.

"We watched a lot on Bosnia and they're all very talented players. Their style of play changed towards the end of the game. They started to go a lot more direct and cause us problems. The fog might have played a part in that."

A clean sheet would be enough to book a place in the finals, yet Clark subscribes to the view that setting out with that in mind would invite disaster.

He added: "We can't just sit back and let them come at us, they're good players and they've a lot of dangers in the side. It's going to be tough for us so hopefully we can make it just as tough for them."

Meanwhile, Chelsea goalkeeper Asmir Begovic highlighted the threat of Jon Walters to the Bosnia-Herzegovina hopes of snatching a Euro 2016 place at the expense of the Republic tonight.

Begovic, hugely frustrated at his team's failure to keep a clean sheet in Zenica in the playoffs first leg, sees Walters, who was suspended for the first leg, as one of a number of problems Bosnia-Herzegovina will have to overcome.

Speaking at the Aviva Stadium last night, Begovic said: "I would expect a lot from Jon. He's a very good quality player, a seasoned pro, and he will strengthen their side. We're trying to get prepared for him as much as possible and it would be nice to get one over him."

Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Mehmed Bazdarevic, who played most of his career in France, and lives near Strasbourg, prefaced his remarks by expressing sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

"Our thoughts are with the French people. I live in France and I know the situation," he said.

Bazdarevic is hopeful midfielder Mensur Mujdza, who was substituted in the 51st minute on Friday due to injury, will be fit.

His options are strengthened by the return of Seamus Coleman's Everton team mate Muhamed Besic from suspension. Talisman Edin Dzeko has a slight injury but is expected to line out.

Overall the coach wants to see Bosnia take a positive approach.

"This will be a hard match, but we will go out to win. We maybe need to be more aggressive in this match," he said.

Belfast Telegraph