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Clarke has learnt hard lesson
Billy Clarke admits he has learned his lesson the hard way.
The Crawley striker was due to return from a three-game ban for the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers today only for the monsoon-like weather to leave him kicking his heels for another week.
Clarke originally thought he would be sidelined for just nine days following the first red card of his professional career against MK Dons on Boxing Day.
But the postponement of games against Swindon Town, Bristol Rovers and now Wolves means Clarke’s suspension will have lasted four-and-a-half weeks when he finally makes his comeback at Rotherham United next weekend.
Being banned is something of a new experience for Clarke and one he is not planning to experience again too soon.
The former Republic of Ireland under-21 international had only been booked five times in his previous 78 games for Crawley and 21 times in total during a career spanning 225 appearances.
His enforced absence also added to what has been a stop-start season for the one-time Blackpool striker.
Clarke scored four goals in his first six games after missing the opening day victory over Coventry City as his wife was in labour.
A knee injury suffered at the start of October sidelined him for the next seven games and he was just rediscovering his best form when his late lunge at Lee Hodson on Boxing Day earned him another unwanted rest.
Clarke said: “It’s been very frustrating, especially as the ban has lasted much longer than I first thought. I thought I was just getting back to full fitness too so sitting out the last three games has been tough.
“I felt I was starting to get my sharpness back in the last few games I played so hopefully I can carry on from where I left off. I was pleased with the way I played at (Leyton Orient) before Christmas but now I’ve got to start again.
“The annoying thing is that I’m not the type of player who tackles anyway. I think that was probably only the second tackle I’ve ever made but I can assure you I won’t be doing anything like that again.
“The ball just got away from me and I genuinely tried to win it. There was no malice at all. I thought I could get it but was a split second too late. I was possibly a bit unlucky but I’ve seen a replay and can understand why the referee made the decision.”
Clarke has played in a variety of positions since joining Crawley from Blackpool two years ago but started his last two games up front alongside Gary Alexander, although an injury to Nicky Adams early in the game against MK Dons saw him switched back to the left wing.
The subsequent arrival of Matt Tubbs has reduced the chances of him continuing in attack while boss John Gregory’s preference for a traditional 4-4-2 formation means there is no chance of being played “in the hole” where he thrived under former manager Richie Barker.
Clarke said: “I would probably like to play up front if I had to choose but there are pros and cons to each position. When I play on the left I am able to drift around a bit but when I’m up front it is a more specific role.
“I played just behind the striker under the previous manager and I think that is possibly my best position but in a 4-4-2 that is not going to happen. As long as I’m playing and helping the team I’m happy.”