Before Villa’s 1-0 victory away at Crystal Palace on Tuesday, they were made to endure a barren spell of nine games with a win, a run spanning back to the 1-0 victory at Liverpool on September 13.
Clearly missing the quality of the star defensive duo of club captain Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos, an ever-expanding injury list that also includes midfielder Fabian Delph and defender Nathan Baker only added to those woes.
But together with the goal scoring return of star striker Christian Benteke this week, the emerging partnership of Jores Okore and Ciaran Clark in the centre of defense has added some much needed steadiness to a Villa team that has struggled to maintain its
balance this season.
New partnership forged in difficult circumstances
The Okore/Clark partnership first came together against Southampton on November 24, where a minor lapse in the Villa defense saw Nathaniel Clyne salvage a point for the Saints in a 1-1 draw at Villa Park.
The duo would then resume their partnership a few days later in the trip to Burnley with another solid display at the back, but a lack of composure late in the game saw Okore bring down Lukas Jutkiewicz in the box to concede a penalty. Burnley forward Danny Ings slotted home to see another Villa goal cancelled out with a late equalizer, making it three points in three games for Paul Lambert’s men.
Palace game may prove a turning point
Registering their first win in nine and now going four games unbeaten in the process, Villa’s new partnering centre-backs again steadied the ship against Crystal Palace as returning Villa forward Christian Benteke scored his first competitive goal since March, with Villa holding on to a 1-0 victory at Selhurst Park this Tuesday.
Further affirming the effectiveness of the makeshift duo in the center of Villa’s defensive line, manager Lambert spoke highly of the burgeoning chemistry of his new-look center-back partnership.
Speaking to the press after the game at Crystal Palace, Lambert praised the efforts of the entire Villa defence. He told the Daily Mail: “Our defensive effort was terrific at Selhurst Park. Okore and Clark worked very well together, Alan Hutton was outstanding too, and with Guzan and Cissokho formed a strong unit there.”
Okore has the talent to improve further
With Danish strongman Okore only having returned after missing the last year due to
a serious knee ligament injury, the young defender’s adaptability and readiness
when called upon despite a lengthy spell on the sidelines has proven a valuable
asset in the last few games.
Lambert acknowledged the efficiency of his partnership with Clark and is relishing a much-welcomed selection headache to be had when Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos return from their respective calf injuries.
He explained: “For Okore, it's his third game in quick succession, and he's been out for more than a year. And I think Ciaran Clark certainly; the two of them have certainly stepped up their game. That's the aim of football, to have selection conundrums and those two are going to give me that when others returns.”
Senderos could struggle to win place back
With more games under his belt, Okore could improve his game significantly this season while competing with the like of Vlaar, Senderos and Nathan Baker for a starting berth. Still only 22-years-old, the Dane’s strong presence at the back has proved a menace for forwards to deal with in the past few games.
Despite a few mistakes, specifically conceding the foul that led to the equalizing penalty at Burnley, the first run of consistent games for Okore has shown the quality of the former FC Nordsjælland defender that reportedly had Chelsea sniffing for his signature prior to his move to the West Midlands.
Partnering with 25-year-old Irishman Clark has brought out the best in the young
Dane of late, doing the same in return for the Bodymoor Heath academy graduate.
Suffering from a lack of consistency himself in recent seasons, Clark has often seen Baker picked ahead of him to partner Ron Vlaar in Villa’s defense, limiting his role to part-time appearances from the bench.
With the chemistry between him and Okore the nucleus of a possible turn-around in Villa’s season, the young Irishman will be looking to settle the score and keep his injured
counterparts in defense on the bench upon their return, gifting Lambert the kind of favourable selection headache that he aims to encounter more often as the sleeping Midlands giant looks to make long overdue positive strides.
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