HE has hit the headlines for his attacking play this season – but Michael Beale feels Jack Clarke has also improved the defensive side of his game significantly in the last few weeks.

Clarke scored his 14th league goal of the season as Sunderland claimed a 3-1 win over Plymouth Argyle at the weekend, with his importance to the Black Cats’ cause once again underlined as he helped change the course of the game in the second half.

The 23-year-old was the subject of two failed bids from Italian side Lazio in last month’s transfer window, providing further evidence of the extent to which his stock has soared in the last year.

Beale will be hoping he is a threat in the final third again tomorrow night when Sunderland head to the John Smith’s Stadium to take on Huddersfield Town, but the Black Cats boss has also been delighted with the quality of Clarke’s defensive work in the last couple of matches, something he has been working with the forward to help improve.

“You see all the things that Jack does in terms of the final third, but I get a unique insight into him in terms of the boy,” said Beale, whose side head into the midweek programme sitting in seventh position in the table.


“So, now I'm working with him, I can see that he’s super fit, he wants to get better and so he’s asking questions – he’s improved defensively since I’ve been here just by taking on some advice.”

While he does not turn 24 until November, Clarke has also willingly shouldered additional leadership responsibilities this season.

He is the attacking figurehead of the Sunderland side, and also an increasingly influential figure within the dressing room, acting as a role model for the club’s batch of talented youngsters.

“In the big moments in the game, he doesn’t go hiding,” added Beale. “He steps up for his club and for his team-mates.

“He’s calm in front of goal. I wouldn’t want to compare him to anyone, but I would say that he’s an impressive young man, not just an impressive footballer."