Jack Clarke has been a Sunderland player, first on loan and then permanently, for just over eighteen months. In that time, he’s progressed from being a raw and slightly frustrating wide player to a forward who’s now the first on the team sheet.
His total of twenty one goal contributions last season played a key role as we reached the Championship playoffs and despite reportedly being ‘unhappy’ on Wearside, he’s come flying out of the blocks during the early stages of 2023/2024.
His goals at Blackburn on Wednesday night were his fourth and fifth of the season, and despite a slow start at Ewood Park, he quickly got into his stride in the second half and began to look like the dangerous winger we know him as.
Clarke has an easygoing appearance on the pitch: shirt untucked, sleeves rolled up and socks rolled down. It’s almost the perfect look for a winger who’ll run at the full back and try to turn him inside out as much as possible.
The man from York was a fixture of our dynamic attacking unit last season, and the current campaign has been very similar so far.
We were told by journalists on deadline day that Clarke was reportedly unhappy that we’d blocked a potential move to Burnley. However, two days later, he lapped up the cheers of the fans as he opened the scoring against Southampton, looking far from upset about where he was playing his football.
At Ewood Park, Clarke helped to run the show for large parts of the second half.
In our eye-catching luminous third kit, he mesmerised the home defenders and his third goal was a composed finish off the back of great work from Dan Neil and Alex Pritchard.
Even towards the very end of the game, Clarke found the energy to pick up the ball and run at the tiring Blackburn backline, and let’s face it, the last thing you want when you’re 3-1 down at home is to have the very winger who’s taken you apart for most of the night running at you again and again.
In the current setup, he’s one of the main men and his ability to move from out wide to inside and across the opposition’s final third makes him a pain in the backside for defenders to keep tabs on.
I love watching Clarke in possession.
So rarely in almost twenty years of supporting Sunderland have I seen a winger who gets the ball and genuinely excites the fans as to what he might do with it.
Now that we’ve bolstered our attacking options, Clarke looks set to have even more support alongside and behind, with more tracking options to aim for. His total of twenty four goals and assists in fifty one appearances for Sunderland is a brilliant return for a player who’s still only twenty two.
The next two transfer windows will likely see our resolve to retain several players, including Clarke, tested once again.
We did a good job of it this summer, making over £11 million on departing players and adding to positions we’d previous looked light in. Being firm with potential suitors is key, and hopefully we can keep Clarke at the Stadium of Light for a while yet.