The Gorgie side went down 1-0 to Motherwell on Sunday seven days after losing at Dundee; both games coming three days after home and away losses to POAK as they crashed out of the Europa Conference League. A return of only four points from four games at the start of the domestic league season has been underwhelming, particularly for the supporters who made their feelings clear at full-time. However, following a physically and mentally sapping run of nine matches in the space of 30 days, Clark, who joins up with Scotland for games against Cyprus and England, insists the recess will at least give Hearts time as a collective to regroup.
“Players, fans – we wanted to keep the Thursday-Sunday routine going but it’s not meant to be,” said Clark. “We’ve got the international break now and it gives us a chance to reset and get our focus back and try and be in a better place come the restart, good to go. You have the traveling with Europe but we had enough freshness in the team and we need to strive off that. We can’t use it as excuses, it was not good enough.
“We need to start games more brightly, we’ve rotated the team and there is a freshness in the team and we can’t use the European games. We need to start on the front foot and settle into games better and cause teams more of a threat. We got down the sides a lot but never really caused any problems. I don’t remember Kells [Liam Kelly] having a save to make of any great note. That’s disappointing for all the good play we had in behind them, it’s just that final ball and being more organised throughout.”
By joining up with the national team, Clark at least will be able to quickly turn his focus to playing his part in a squad that is chasing qualification for Euro 2024. Victory in Cyprus on Friday night would leave Scotland on the verge of sealing their place in Germany in what has been a flawless Group A campaign to date. Steve Clark’s side then host England on September 12 in the 150th anniversary match.
"Going away with the national team is a great honour and we’re doing well at the minute,” said Clark. “It’s something to look forward to but I would rather be going away off the back of winning. Once you’re there, it’s focussing on being part of the set-up and it’s a massive game coming up, one we need to prepare for. We’ve put ourselves in a great place, the boys have been excellent the past few camps and to give ourselves that opportunity to go and do that is massive. We’ll prepare for it throughout the week.”
While Angus Gunn has established himself as Scotland’s number one in Craig Gordon’s absence, the friendly match against England could offer Clark a chance of some game time. He added: “I just enjoy going into the camps, if the manager decides to play you then it’s good. Gunny has come in and done brilliantly with the clean sheets. As a goalkeeper you know there is always going to be one playing and two left out and then you become that support group.”