The latest graduate from United’s storied Academy to first team scored his maiden senior goal against Aston Villa – but was more bothered about trying to win the game than personal glory. Lee Sobot reports.
ONE thought went through 18-year-old Jack Clarke’s mind upon scoring his first goal for Leeds United.
Not how should he celebrate; not the fact he had become the club’s youngest goalscorer in the league since Simon Walton netted against Cardiff City back in 2005.
The only matter on Clarke’s mind was that with 34 minutes remaining in Sunday’s clash at Aston Villa there was still plenty of time to net two more.
A young man on a mission with the ultimate target to fire Leeds United to the Premier League and keep them there upon having achieved that objective.
York-born Clarke is one of the latest stars to graduate from United’s thriving Academy with the winger having continually impressed upon being brought on from the bench by Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa.
That first opportunity presented itself in the 1-1 draw at home to Brentford on October 6 and in just ten weeks and seven more outings from the bench the talented teen has made giant strides since.
Clarke received particular praise and acclaim for the cool head and composure shown when setting up Pablo Hernandez for the only goal of the game in this month’s 1-0 win at Sheffield United – a rare victory for the Whites at Bramall Lane.
That goal ensured United’s first win at The Blades since April 1992 – still some eight and a half years from Clarke being born.
The 1992 triumph sealed Howard Wilkinson’s side the First Division championship – one year before the country’s top flight became the Premier League.
Rather than bask in the glory of breaking into United’s first team – Clarke’s only goal is to not just fire United back to that promised land but to keep them there.
“Get this team to the Prem and stay in the Prem. That’s what my ambitions are,” Clarke told the YEP.
“When I come on I just try and do what I know I can do. I just try and make an impact and do something whether it’s to get an assist or get a goal, just help the team out in any way I can.
“If it comes off it comes off, if it doesn’t it doesn’t but in this squad they have just got faith in me to do something and if I do it it’s brilliant. If I don’t I’ll still get the encouragement and I’ve still got the confidence to try things.”
More often than not, that endeavour is producing the goods with Clarke instrumental in inspiring United’s stunning 3-2 victory at Aston Villa on Sunday in which the Whites trailed 2-0 after just 17 minutes.
The 18-year-old was brought on for his eighth outing for Leeds and the teen quickly caused problems down the left-hand flank.
Then, in the 56th minute, arrived the finest moment of Clarke’s young career so far as the winger cut inside and darted into the area before beating several men and unleashing a fierce drive past Villa keeper Orjan Nyland into the back of the net.
Such has been the teen’s continued positive influence, calls are becoming louder and louder for Clarke to start.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” said Clarke, asked when he thought his first start might arrive. “Hopefully soon but it’s the manager’s choice.”
Reflecting on his first ever goal for Leeds, Clarke added: “I couldn’t really think about anything after scoring apart from trying to get some more, trying to get a couple more.
“There was still a lot of time to go and I think the win was more important than the goal.
“It felt brilliant to score but nothing will beat that feeling of winning. It was unbelievable.”
Winning again that is with further strikes from Pontus Jansson and a dramatic 95th-minute volley from Kemar Roofe ultimately steering the Whites to their sixth victory in a row – a triumph that ensured United jumped back above Norwich City to sit top of the table on Christmas Day.
For Clarke, a Christmas to remember but all thoughts immediately turned to Boxing Day’s home clash against Blackburn Rovers and ultimately on seeing the job through.
“We have still got to concentrate. We have got a big day on Boxing Day,” said Clarke.
“We have got a massive confidence this season that we can do something different and we will just see how long we can keep this good run going for.
“We will just see where it takes us. The longer we keep winning, the more chance we have got of getting promotion and that’s what we are all pushing for this season. The bigger the gap between us and third place is massive for us.
“We just want to stay in the top two, preferably the top for as long as we can and just keep winning for as long as possible and it will leave us in good standing come may to try and get promotion.
“Hopefully it’s the year for us. Even if we are playing badly or we are playing well we are still grinding out results.
“That’s six on the bounce now and it’s looking good, it’s looking promising.”
As too is Clarke who is relishing being the latest Academy graduate to star for Leeds and thriving upon the confidence placed in him by Whites head coach Bielsa. “It’s brilliant us all coming through together and making our breakthrough together,” said Clarke.
“It just reflects how good the Academy is at Leeds to push so many on this season.
“I think playing alongside the first team players brings out the best in me. If they are playing well then I am playing well.
“The manager has got confidence in me to put me on and try and make an impact. When I do make an impact it’s just brilliant.”