Ciaran Clark's tenure at Aston Villa has been peculiar. His performance with the Republic of Ireland Monday evening was no different. In the opening game of the Republic of Ireland's European Championship campaign, the Irish central defense partnership of John O'Shea and Ciaran Clark were left with the monumental task of putting a muzzle on Swedish superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Martin O'Neil's men did so extremely effectively in the first half, minimizing Ibrahimovic's impact on the game, forcing him to retreat deep into the Swedish midfield to try and get on the ball and assert himself on the match.
The Irish were overall much the better team in the first half, deserving to go into the break at least one up. Ciaran Clark played a role in arguably the Republic's best chance of the half with a knock-on header that presented John O'Shea with an open goal, but the Sunderland defender was unable to sort his feet out quickly enough to direct the ball on target. Ireland's constant pressure was rewarded soon into the second half as they grabbed a 1-0 lead through a sublime Wes Hoolahan strike - the Swedish, however, found a new energy and started to dictate play for the first time in the match. They soon found their equalizer as despite Ciaran Clark's near flawless first half display, he headed a Zlatan Ibrahimovic cross past goalkeeper Darren Randolph in the 71st minute. If Clark had not have gotten a touch on the ball, it almost certainly would have been put away by the Swedish striker lurking just behind him - although his finish would likely not have been as clinical as Clark's was: firm and low into the corner.
Clark struggled at times last year with Villa but still has plenty of time to mature and grow - he certainly has the physical skills and is developing the experience to be a top level defender. He, along with a few other members of the Villa squad seem to be tailor-made for the Championship, but nothing is certain in a club with so much turmoil. What do you think? Let us know!