Aston Villa defender Ciaran Clark glad to experience different atmosphere on Republic of Ireland duty

The bright mood in the Ireland camp is in stark contrast to the current gloom surrounding Villa Park.

Having endured a trying season at Aston Villa, Ciaran Clark admits that being away with the Republic of Ireland during the international break has come as a welcome change.

Villa currently sit 12 points from safety at the foot of the Premier League with only 16 points from 31 games, having recorded just three wins and scored a division-low 22 goals.

After an excellent 2014-15 season, Clark has failed to reproduce the same form this term amid the club’s continuing plight and has fallen down the centre-back pecking order as a result, making just three top-flight starts over the past three months.

In contrast, the 26-year-old defender played a key role in Ireland’s Euro 2016 play-off win over Bosnia and Herzegovina in November with a couple of strong performances and now looks a shoe-in to make Martin O’Neill’s 23-man squad for the tournament this summer after starting their past three fixtures.

His latest display saw him score the only goal of the game in Friday’s friendly victory over Switzerland in Dublin, and the 16-times capped stopper admits that the bright mood in the camp is in stark contrast to the current gloom around Villa Park.

Speaking alongside O’Neill at the Ireland manager’s pre-match press conference ahead of tonight’s clash with Slovakia at the Aviva Stadium, Clark told reporters: “Everyone’s trying to do their best to impress and force their way into that 23. For Whatever reason, it’s been a bit up and down this season for me at club level, but to come away and play over here is obviously brilliant me.

“It’s nice to come away and meet up with the boys and the staff. It’s a different atmosphere. When we play the games, we all try our best and enjoy it. The atmosphere around the pace is always brilliant and there’s obviously a great bond between the players and staff.

“Every player wants to play. To be on the bench [at Villa] is frustrating but I just work hard in training, try to keep my head down, just keep doing the best I can and hopefully take the chance when it comes.”

Clark previously played for O’Neill during the Northern Irishman’s four-year reign as Villa boss, when he was handed his senior debut at the start of the 2009-10 campaign.

The former academy product has since made 155 total appearances for his boyhood club, scoring nine goals, but he has had to battle relegation in each of his six full seasons with the first-team squad.

Register for ASTON VILLA team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch