JACK CLARKE has highlighted Tony Mowbray’s attention to detail as one of the key factors behind his successful start to the season with Sunderland.

Clarke has been in sparkling form this term, with his nine goals in 16 league matches making him the joint second-highest scorer in the Championship.

The 22-year-old’s form has seen him linked with Burnley and Brentford ahead of the reopening of the transfer window at the turn of the year, but Sunderland officials are determined to do all they can to hold on the winger as they look to fuel a sustained promotion push in the second half of the season.

Clarke enjoyed a successful campaign last term, with his form leading to a series of unsuccessful bids from Burnley in the summer, but his performances have improved again during the current campaign.

The York-born wide-man is playing with a high degree of confidence, which is helping to spur him on, but Mowbray’s one-to-one tutelage is also having a positive effect.

“Tony Mowbray was the perfect manager to come in,” said Clarke, who will return to action when Sunderland travel to Plymouth Argyle next weekend. “He gives me freedom to go out and play, and doesn’t try to over-complicate things.

“He knows that for me and other creative players, it’s about nurturing what we have and trying to create something every game. He’s really good with us, and just gives us that platform to go out there and express ourselves, and you can see that with, not only my performances, but the team’s performances as well.


“We always speak about little things during the game, for example whether he thinks I’m better off going down the line or coming inside, how he sets the team up, and where he sees the weaknesses in other teams and their defences.

“He always speaks about shooting with no back lift, mentioning players like Thierry Henry and others from his era, trying to draw similarities from how they used to improve their game and score goals.”

Clarke set up Sunderland’s third goal as they signed off ahead of the current international break with a 3-1 home win over Birmingham City.

The victory at the Stadium of Light lifted the Black Cats back into the play-off places in sixth position, with 26 points from their opening 16 games.

This time last year, Sunderland were 15th during the November international break, before a fine run of form in the second half of the season propelled them into the play-offs, and Clarke cites beating last term’s sixth-placed finish as a key ambition for the current campaign.

“We want to replicate what we did last year, if not better that,” said Clarke, in an interview with Championship sponsors Sky Bet. “Personally, I think the division is even tougher this year with a lot of strong teams in the top six, eight and ten. We’ve just got to be involved in that, and part of those top teams for as long as possible.

“We had a lot of injuries last year that jeopardised us a bit towards the back end of the season, so hopefully, if we can keep everybody fit, we can look to build off what we did last year, if not better it.”

Clarke’s performances have hardly gone unnoticed, with other Championship managers now identifying the winger as a key player to stop if Sunderland are to be held in check.

That has presented new problems for him to overcome, with Clarke tinkering with his game to try to deal with being double-marked by the opposition.

“There are a lot of tough defenders in this league,” he said. “Teams are well-organised and set up, and a lot of the time, especially for me, I’ve noticed that I’m getting double-marked. That affects my game in a way that I can’t express myself as much as I want to, but also leaves space for other people to flourish.”