After another standout performance, is Ciaran Clark Aston Villa's Player of the Year?

Aston Villa

The centre-back's defensive showing against Midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion further highlighted just how important he's become to the side in recent months.

Ciaran Clark: By The Numbers: Vs West Brom: 20150304

After another starring performance in last night’s 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, it’s somewhat startling to think that Ciaran Clark started out this season as Aston Villa’s fourth-choice centre-back.

Clark, 25, made 28 appearances across all competitions for Villa last season, but his form during another relegation-threatened campaign prompted the since-departed Paul Lambert to seek reinforcements in the transfer market.

With the signing of Philippe Senderos in the summer, the Republic of Ireland international found himself behind the Swiss veteran, captain Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker heading into the new term, and a potential loan move elsewhere mooted, per the Birmingham Mail.

Injuries to all three forced him into action alongside Jores Okore for November’s 1-1 home draw with Southampton, however, and the former trainee hasn’t looked back since, starting all but two games to establish himself as one of the team’s most reliable contributors.

That fact was further underlined in the West Brom clash, when Clark put up some outstanding statistics, recording match-leading figures in clearances, duels won and headers won, which dwarfed his defensive rivals and helped Villa to end their 12-game winless league run in the process.

  TeamTotal ClearancesDuels WonDuel SuccessHeaders WonHeader SuccessInterceptionsTotal PassesPassing AccuracyMins Played
Ciaran Clark Aston Villa 17 12 85.71% 12 92.31% 2 48 75% 90
Jores Okore Aston Villa 11 6 85.71% 3 100% 2 41 80% 90
Matthew Lowton Aston Villa 8 7 70% 3 60% 1 43 70% 90
Gareth McAuley West Brom 8 7 70% 4 66.67% 1 19 63% 90
Chris Brunt West Brom 6 4 66.67% 2 66.67% 3 40 53% 90
Alan Hutton Aston Villa 5 8 53.33% 1 50% 0 64 81% 90
Craig Dawson West Brom 3 8 57.14% 6 50% 2 47 74% 90
Joleon Lescott West Brom 3 5 55.56% 5 71.43% 0 27 74% 90

Villa's attacking struggles this season have been well-documented but, amid their dismal run of just three wins in 24 league games, their defence has remained a solid unit, thanks in large part to the likes of Clark and Okore deputising to an even higher standard than those they've replaced in the line-up.

In fact, with Villa boasting few standout performers in recent months, there's a decent argument to make that Clark might just be a potential Player of the Year contender if he can keep of his current level of form over the final stretch of the campaign.

For someone on the fringes of the first-team in August, that's a huge testament to the work he's put in to turnaround his fortunes in the West Midlands, and the stats this season compared to last emphasise his growth, showing improvement in all the major areas, bar a slight difference in tackles per minute.

  PositionTeamSeasonTotal Tackles MINSTackle AccuracyTotal Clearances MINSHeaders Won MINSHeader SuccessInterceptions MINSPassing AccuracyAppearancesMins Played
Ciaran Clark DF Aston Villa 2014-2015 51.22 88% 9.21 24.1 68% 40.98 81% 20 1,639
Ciaran Clark DF Aston Villa 2013-2014 47.87 83% 10.96 34.41 59% 88.08 73% 27 2,202
Ron Vlaar DF Aston Villa 2014-2015 127 88% 13.73 78.15 45% 39.08 83% 13 1,016

With Vlaar looking set to depart in the summer, leaving his captain's armband behind in the process, the centre of Villa's defence looks to be in safe hands moving forward with Clark and Okore, as new boss Tim Sherwood bids to remodel his team around up-and-coming talent.

Furthermore, while Fabian Delph has led the team out for the past two matches with the Dutchman injured, one could argue that Clark is the best option to take over the role long-term, considering the character and dedication he's shown both in recent months and throughout his claret and blue career.

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