Ciaran Clark had been one of Newcastle United’s top performers for much of the season but he let Steve Bruce down during a difficult run of games in March.
The Toon failed to win any of their fixtures this month to stretch a winless run to six, and theu can count themselves fortunate to not have lost against West Bromwich Albion or Aston Villa.
United now sit precariously on the cusp of the relegation zone going into the international break, with Fulham only two points adrift and the game in hand being of little comfort.
Bruce would have hoped to put some distance between the Magpies and the drop zone with winnable games against relegation-rivals West Brom and Brighton & Hove Albion, but his side were clearly second best in each encounter.
The Baggies were made to rue a string of missed opportunities during Newcastle’s visit to The Hawthorns at the start of the month, with several promising chances going to waste.
Yet Brighton refused to repeat West Brom’s mistakes and punished Newcastle on Saturday as they stormed to a comfortable 3-0 win, whilst United looked like a side that had accepted defeat and offered next to no fight.
“I was absolutely shocked at basically Brighton being that far in front of us in every department tonight,” Bruce said, via quotes by The Guardian. “We simply didn’t do enough. That’s the biggest frustration.”
Clark was one of the many who did not do enough at the Amex Stadium, where he was turned inside out as Leandro Trossard opened the scoring, to round off what had been a rather miserable month for the Republic of Ireland international.
It was off a deflection from the £3.5m-rated enforcer that Aston Villa had gone ahead the week prior, in a freakish incident that could have had a devasting impact on Newcastle’s hopes of survival were in not for Jamaal Lascelles’ scoring a stoppage-time equaliser.
Clark had been Newcastle’s hero at the back for much of the season before March rolled around, with Bruce lauding the 31-year-old for his efforts toward the end of 2020 before the defender would sign a new, two-year contract.
“He’s not an unsung hero to me, Ciaran is a really good player who gives you a nice balance with his left foot,” the Toon boss said, via quotes by Chronicle Live. “He’s fiercely competitive and I remember the tackle he went into at Arsenal, and he knew he was going to get hurt, but he went in for the sake of the team.”
It was a very different Clark on show against Brighton, as he earned his worst WhoScored match rating of the month at 6.36 out of 10 following a steady decline from the 7.77 achieved against West Brom and 6.43 recorded at home to Aston Villa.
The defender scored so lowly on the south coast as he committed two fouls to the one successful tackle made, more than Clark had given away in any of his 10 previous Premier League games.
He further only offered two clearances – only twice in 2021 so far has he produced less – while not making any successful tackles against Aston Villa for the first time in five matches.
Some Newcastle fans may have taken aim at Ryan Fraser for his efforts against Brighton, as he was also the subject of criticism against West Brom and Aston Villa, but his energy has returned flashes of promise in performances that have matched his displays seen all season.
The Scotland winger created three goalscoring chances against the Baggies – only against Crystal Palace in February has he registered more (7) – and two against the Villans, while taking two shots against both Villa and Brighton – the joint-most he has struck in any single league game this term, per WhoScored.
All the while, Fraser has mostly been fielded in an unnatural central role, with Bruce utilising the forward as a false nine against West Brom and Aston Villa, to see that his efforts were not as bad in the grand scheme of things as what some of his Toon teammates produced.
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