Zander Clark reveals Hearts support which has lifted him back into Scotland squad
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Clark also praised goalkeeping coach Paul Gallacher for going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure the 30-year-old was ready to step in and protect the Hearts goal after a summer of being without a club.
He’s been in excellent form since coming in for Gordon in the club captain’s absence after he broke a leg in the 2-2 draw with Dundee United on Christmas Eve, so much so that Hearts haven’t really missed having the reigning SWFA Player of the Year award winner between the sticks.
Gordon himself has helped make the transition as smooth as possible by studying his former understudy during games and passing on the knowledge he’s learned from a career playing at the highest level in English football, the Champions League and tallying 74 caps for his country.
"I speak to Craig every day when he's in,” said Clark. “When you have someone of his calibre who has played at the top level for the vast majority of his career, it would be daft to not have conversations with him to try and pick away at his knowledge of the game. I'm 30-years-old but I can still pick up so much valuable information from the big man.
“When you’ve got that in the changing room, it would be daft not to have chats with him.
“It’s a completely different view of the game when he’s up in the stand, so it’s always nice to speak to the big man and ask what he thought and whether there was anything he picked up positional-wise.
“I speak to him after every game and myself, him and Paul Gallacher, the goalie coach, will speak and talk about how things look.
“Gall has been massive for me since I joined the club and who spent extra time with me when I first came in to get extra sharpness and fitness back up to the standards that were required to play for a club like Hearts.
“He’s been a massive help for me and a great coach in terms of being willing to put extra hours in with myself on a one-to-one and get me up to speed, and I’ve been delighted with that.
“It’s great to have both of them at the club, with such a wealth of knowledge in the game that you can tap into.”
After playing a significant role in helping St Johnstone to win the cup double in 2020/21, Clark continued to excel last season despite playing behind a team which endured a nightmare campaign and was almost relegated from the top flight. However, less than a year on from being a key reason why the Saints didn’t drop out of the division, Clark believes he’s an even better keeper thanks to the support he’s received at Tynecastle and the demands of playing for a bigger club.
“Yes, I’m probably a better keeper for it,” he agreed when asked. “When I was at St Johnstone I had big Alan Mannus, another international-standard goalkeeper. He was probably one of the best in the league for a few years. So, I’ve had that throughout my career, where I’ve had very good coaches and other goalkeepers I could speak to and learn from.
“Coming here, it’s a massive club and with the standards that are expected from the coaches and the players themselves and from the fans, you need to be right at it every single day.
“I’m not saying that I wasn’t bang at it every day when I was at St Johnstone but you need to be at it here. Maybe in that respect, and being at the top of your game every day in training, has factored towards being that bit better.”
Clark will be hoping to notch cap number one next Saturday when Cyprus come to Glasgow. His place in the team would almost have been assured considering his current form against the other Scottish Premiership goalkeepers in contention, but a curveball has been thrown into the mix with Norwich City goalkeeper Angus Gunn finally deciding to switch allegiances and play for the nation of his father’s birth.
Gunn, Clark and Motherwell goalkeeper Liam Kelly will all have the chance to audition for the role when the training camp gets underway next week, but Clark insists there will be no animosity, only support, from the two left out of the starting XI after the manager makes his decision.
“There’s not many outfield players who could fit into a goalkeeping group, we’re a daft bunch,” he said.
“We're isolated while everyone else is doing their passing drills and stuff. We spend a lot of time together but you know that when you're on the top of your game then the person in front of you can only be at the top of their game. That benefits the club or country.
"There's never any fall-outs, or very rarely, in the goalkeeping department. Everyone just wants to do their very best. With the one who's playing, if you can push him and improve then it's better for the team, then you're delighted.
"Then if they have a dip and you take their place, you're obviously delighted for yourself but the first people to come and congratulate you are the other goalkeepers.”