Clarke 'absolutely delighted' to see fan-favourite make his return from injury
STEVE Clarke granted fan-favourite Zoltan Gera his first Albion appearance in eight months – and then beamed: “I‘m absolutely delighted he’s back.”
Gera has been sidelined since suffering a serious knee injury last November – only three games after battling back from an ankle problem.
But the Hungary star’s agonising wait for first-team football finally ended last night when he replaced Peter Odemwingie in the 71st minute of Albion’s 3-0 success at Copenhagen.
And Clarke reckons both Gera and the club’s medical staff deserve a big slap on the back for making it happen.
“I’m absolutely delighted for him,” said the new head coach.
“I’ve only known him a short period of time but he’s a fantastic lad and has worked ever so hard to get back onto the pitch.
“A lot of credit should go to the player himself who, despite being the wrong side of 30, has the drive and ambition to still want to be out there, and also to the people who have worked with him to get him into that position.
“It’s been a good effort all round.
“He’s had a long time out of the game so he’s fresh and he’s hungry.
“He showed a lot of good touches when he came on.
“It was nice to see him back on the pitch.”
Clarke is hopeful that last night’s final tour game has not yielded any fresh injury concerns and insisted Ben Foster will be back sooner rather than later.
“Ben caught a shot on the end of his toe in training on Tuesday and his ankle was just a little bit bruised yesterday morning,” added the former Chelsea player.
“As far as I’m aware, we came through the game okay, but we’ll assess the players when we arrive in England later today, when we’ll be giving them a day off.
“We’ll let them recover from the early flight, get them back in tomorrow and shape up a team for Barnsley on Saturday.”
Clarke singled out Luke Daniels for praise after the Copenhagen win and said he is impressed by how the goalkeeping department, under coach Dean Kiely, is shaping up.
“There was no need to play Ben last night and I’m glad we’re discussing the keepers, because young Luke did ever so well,” he added.
“He made some really good saves and looked confident. I was pleased with him.
“From what I’ve seen so far, we’re fortunate because we’ve got three really good goalkeepers.
“They’re working well together and pushing each other.
“As you saw in the previous game, Boaz is in good shape and Luke is in good shape.
“Hopefully, Ben will be back in a couple of days’ time and we’ll get a game out of him.”