Irish star Clark praises Richmond welcome

by Dave Donnelly

Republic of Ireland defender Ciaran Clark praised the “lovely” Richmond Park surface after helping Newcastle United kick off their pre-season with a 2-0 friendly win over St Patrick’s Athletic.

Clark played the second half as Rafa Benitez’s side wrapped up their pre-season camp at Carton House with a hard-fought win over the League of Ireland side on Tuesday evening.

Almost 5,000 fans watched on as goals late in either half from Sean Longstaff and Christian Atsu ensured the large travelling support had something to cheer about on their return to England.

The Magpies had a succession of early chances as the Saints’ stubborn insistence on playing out from the back saw them cough up possession in the wrong areas of the pitch.

Longstaff, Joselu and Mohamed Diamé all saw efforts miss the target early on before Joselu again was wasteful from a free kick routine that caught the Pats’ defence napping.

The Saints gradually got a hold on the game, however, and began to dominate in the second quarter with the previously-quiet Darragh Markey dictating play from midfield.

A nicely-weighted ball from Dean Clarke found Jake Keegan peeling away from the centre-halves and he looked to loop his header over the advancing Karl Darlow, but he couldn’t steer it on target.

A bad tackle from Matt Ritchie on Michael Barker forced the Saints right-back to be replaced by Simon Madden, but not before the Magpies took the lead three minutes from the break.

Pats once again failed to clear the lines despite a goal-saving header from Lee Desmond, and Longstaff was on hand to finish well with the help of the post.

Madden could have equalised within a minute when he got on the end of Clarke’s chipped cross but, despite shipping a heavy knock from Darlow, he couldn’t find the bottom corner.

Both sides made nine changes at the break, one of which saw Clark share a pitch with Pats’ Kevin Toner for the first time since they faced Newcastle for Aston Villa in the Premier League in 2016.

A stronger Newcastle side now began to dominate, with Jonjo Shelvey particularly impressive in midfield, but the second goal just wouldn’t come.

DeAndre Yedlin had the best opportunity after Barry Murphy had done brilliantly to deny Dwight Gayle with his feet, but the American missed an open goal.

Chelsea loanee Kenedy struck the crossbar with a vicious shot from range before a world-class save from Murphy denied the Brazilian from close range.

The Magpies did find a second four minutes from time as Toner brought down Gayle on the edge of the box and Atsu sent Murphy the wrong way from 12 yards.

“It’s a lovely stadium and the pitch has been brilliant,” Clark told the Dublin Gazette.

“The ball moved really well on it. It suited us really because we like to pass it around a bit. It was a good atmosphere as well with all the fans coming down to see it.

“They weren’t afraid to play out from the back at all.

“Everyone looked very comfortable on the ball and made it really difficult for us to press them and get the ball back.”

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