Rafa Benitez reacts to Ciaran Clark’s imminent return at Newcastle

Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark.
Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark.

Rafa Benitez is hopeful Ciaran Clark will strengthen his defence for Newcastle United’s final promotion push.

Clark returned to training this week after recovering from the knee injury which sidelined him for more than a month.

Always when you have players coming back from injuries, it is good news for us, because the competition increases. It’s one more option, and this is always good.

Rafa Benitez

Newcastle have missed the influential defender, signed from Aston Villa last summer, in recent weeks.

United manager Benitez has fielded both Grant Hanley and Chancel Mbemba alongside captain Jamaal Lascelles in Clark’s absence.

Hanley partnered Lascelles in the 3-1 Easter Monday defeat at Ipswich Town.

“Those who came in have tried and some have done well and as a team we have made mistakes,” said Benitez.

“In this case, I am quite pleased with the attitude of the other players.

“Always when you have players coming back from injuries, it is good news for us, because the competition increases.

“It’s one more option, and this is always good.”

Clark’s readiness to play against Preston North End at St James’s Park will be assessed over the weekend by Benitez.

“Clark has trained with the team,” said Benitez. “I think he will be available. We’ll assess him in these two training sessions.”

Striker Dwight Gayle, however, is not ready to return from the injury he suffered against Sheffield Wednesday earlier this month.

Gayle, the club’s 22-goal leading scorer, limped off at Hillsborough with another hamstring problem.

Benitez said: “Dwight is still not ready.”