Sheffield United boss hails Newcastle loan move a success despite limited opportunities

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Paul Heckingbottom says Ciaran Clark’s presence at Sheffield United this season underlines the importance of creating competition with a squad, as the Newcastle defender prepares to complete his loan at Bramall Lane.

Drawing a direct correlation between the arrival of Clark and the form Jack Robinson has displayed this term, Heckingbottom insisted the decision to sign the 33-year-old has proved to be correct despite his limited opportunities in South Yorkshire.

“You can’t be in a position where people know they are going to play,” the United manager said. “That’s no slight on anyone else, or suggesting that they’d slack off. Because it’s not. But what it does is show that, when someone comes in, other players want to impress them and show that they are good players too.”

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“Ciaran has played games, and some big ones for us,” Heckingbottom continued. “Then he had a little set-back with an injury, just after Jack had come back from one of his own. We were covered and didn’t have to move things around. We could just go like for like. But when he was over that, Jack was playing so well that he deserved to keep his place. All the way through, though, he’s known that Ciaran was there and ready to step in. I do think it makes a difference.”

With Robinson also set to become a free agent and Clark’s contract at St James’ Park about to expire, United face a hectic summer as they ready themselves for Premier League football - even before Heckingbottom begins drafting in reinforcements. The number of agreements either in need of renegotiating or extending is a legacy of United’s well-documented financial issues, which saw them placed under a transfer embargo for nearly four months earlier this year.

Clark, who will shortly discover if Heckingbottom will offer him the chance to remain at Bramall Lane, has made 11 appearances for United since leaving the North-East. Eight of those have resulted in victories, with Clark tasting defeat in a Championship game only twice as United secured automatic promotion from the division.

“Ciaran has been a big influence,” Heckingbottom said. “Through the standards he sets every single day.”