Leon Clarke insists he has emerged from the toughest period of his Bramall Lane career a mentally stronger player after firing Sheffield United side to within touching distance of the Championship.
The former Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-forward scored the opening goal of Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Coventry City which edged Chris Wilder’s side a step closer to promotion from League One.
Despite seeing a series of ankle problems wreck his hopes of commanding a regular place in United’s starting eleven, Clarke told The Star he is now a much more complete footballer than the one which arrived at the club nine months ago.
“Don’t get me wrong, it has been a frustrating season for me on a personal level after scoring so many goals last season,” Clarke said. “But I am older and wiser and I can deal with the injuries and every time I have come back this season, I have been fit and healthy.
“It can be frustrating at times and I am not the easiest person to deal with when I am injured. My partner will tell you that and the physios. I was lucky enough to get some time off after my first setback, which was nice. I think if I had been stuck in that physio’s room for a little bit longer, we’d have all been pulling each other’s hairs out.
“As I have got older and wiser and especially this season, I have come to realise I can deal with it a lot better.”
Clarke, who scored 18 goals in 37 appearances for Bury last term, is again expected to feature when United travel to Northampton Town tomorrow. A win will guarantee Wilder’s team a top two finish, regardless of third-placed Fleetwood’s result at Oldham.
Clarke, reflecting on his strike against City, said: “I always back myself to score goals and it was a great ball by Flecky (John Fleck) and to be honest, I was in the right place and the right time and it kind of felt like fate.
“Flecky has that quality and has been quality all season. I gambled and I could it was going to loop over the lads’ head and I tried to get something on it and luckily, it went in.
“To be honest, it was just really nice to be out there. It felt a little bit weird because it had been so long and the lungs were gasping for air a little bit at one point. But it was really nice to be out there with the lads.”