The defender Newcastle United have only just realised they cannot do without

Often over-looked, never under-performs.

Thursday, 16th January 2020, 1:45 pm
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09: Ciaran Clark of Newcastle United celebrates with Martin Dubravka of Newcastle United following the Premier League match between Newcastle United and AFC Bournemouth at St. James Park on November 09, 2019 in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

The above term just about ticks every box when it comes to Ciaran Clark and his Newcastle United career.

A player who almost departed in the summer, with the likelihood of FIVE central defenders sitting ahead of him in the pecking order, but has become an integral part of the Magpies' defensive unit.

Roll the clock back to 2016 and the signing of the Republic of Ireland international went under the radar a little, overshadowed to large degree by Rafa Benitez's capture of Matt Ritchie from Bournemouth, Dwight Gayle from Crystal Palace and Mo Diame's release clause activation which saw him swap the KCOM Stadium for St James's Park.

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Grant Hanley was signed that summer as well, and with Jamaal Lascelles the newly named Newcastle skipper, even from the off Clark's chances looked set to be limited.

He came with a reputation of solid shows with the odd error thrown in, hence why Aston Villa weren't too fussed about letting the player go.

In all fairness, we've not seen any of that in black and white. From the off Clark has been a shining example of what a central defender should be.

Rarely beaten in the air, in the tackle, able to play the ball out and with a no-nonsense old-fashioned style to him, Clark was the perfect complement for Lascelles that first season. In fact, even though Lascelles was being watched by Chelsea and Liverpool from the stands in that second tier-winning year, it was his partner who outshone him week after week.

Nothing flashy but never lets you down is admirable, but it will always have managers looking to replace you with a fresher model.

In came Florian Lejeune, Federico Fernandez, Fabian Schar and others, and still to this day Clark continues to hold his own.

It was evident when he played before Christmas that United's back three was a better unit with him it, only further underlined by the Magpies' defensive struggles in his absence through the festive period.

So it was absolutely no shock to see Clark return to the defensive fold at the first possible opportunity, and even less of a one to see United look a whole lot more assured at Wolves on Saturday. The return of both Lascelles, almost certain to start against Chelsea on Saturday evening, and Clark with reunite the Championship axis, which served United so well in 2016/17 and pre-Christmas 2019.

Manager Steve Bruce, a defender of some repute, will know one when he sees one. And it's clear to me, he values Clark as part of his immediate, and probable future plans. Federico Fernandez falls into that category, too - remarkable really given both men looked certain to walk away from United in the summer.

It will be interesting to see if the club's hierarchy share Bruce's defensive view, with age not on either man's side and contracts up in 2021 and 2020 respectively.

But for now Clark remains a player who rarely wins the applause, accolades and the like of the fans, but after United's Christmas shakes surely now he's someone people realise Newcastle can't do without.