Queen of the South’s Zander Clark put up the shutters as his side defeated Rangers on Friday night and the on-loan St Johnstone goalkeeper is concentrating only on shot-stopping after ruling himself out of spying duties.
The fifth-round draw for the William Hill Scottish Cup paired Clark’s two clubs together and the 22-year-old, who is halfway through his second season on loan with the Dumfries club, said: “I am in for an interesting couple of months. It should be a good game for both teams but a difficult game for me to be a spectator at. I was in Perth when the draw was made and was actually off the following day after being ill and that led to the banter starting.
“The Queen’s players were saying I was scared to show my face and saying that I was St Johnstone’s spy. That made me chuckle as I am too big to be a spy. I am six foot five and cannot be indiscreet anywhere.
“When the game is played I think I will sit on the halfway line with a Saints tracksuit on for the first half and a Queen of the South tracksuit on for the second.”
Clark, who had already been barred from participating in the competition by the Perth cup holders in case an emergency leads to him being recalled, has already been involved in a club versus club battle.
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Clark said: “I missed St Johnstone’s 2-0 win over Dundee United back in May as Queen of the South took the players away to Ibiza as a thank you for reaching the play-offs.
“I watched St Johnstone win the cup for the first time in their history on Sky Sports. Whilst that was nice I would imagine being at the game would have been amazing.”
Whilst Clark has ruled himself out of passing secrets on to either side, there would appear to be little need for St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright to grill Clark in any case as the Perth club have been closely monitoring his progress.
Clark said: “St Johnstone have been keeping tabs on me and the assistant manager Callum Davidson, Banksy and the head of youth Alex Cleland have all been at some of our games.”
The Perth club also see Clark close up with the former Hamilton Accies youth player saying: “I go there on a Monday and train with Stevie Banks. I then go down to Queen of the South for Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Banksy has helped me a lot and at Queen’s I work with Kenny Arthur for two of the days I am there.
“Three days a week of top goalkeeping coaching is a real help.”
As well as solid training and preparation, Clark is benefitting from the experience that is often denied to young goalkeepers, as he explained: “I am 22, which is young for a goalkeeper, and to have picked up the experience I have is great.
“I was on loan at Elgin and in their first team at 18. Playing in the Championship last season helped me get a two-year deal with St Johnstone last summer.
“The loan move came about at the right time for me as I would have probably got frustrated at St Johnstone waiting for a chance. I now have the experience of playing at Tynecastle, Ibrox and Easter Road in really big league games.
“Playing at Palmerston when the home fans, as well as those of Rangers, Hibs and Hearts, have been packing it out has been great as well. Playing in these games with a team going for promotion is terrific experience.”
Clark added: “We are pretty much the unnoticed team in the Championship and we are quite happy with that. The ‘Big Three’ can get all the attention and we will just keep plugging away. If we can keep picking up points we can stay in the top four until May.”
As for Cup success for James Fowler’s side, Clark has faith in the shot-stopper that will come in for him to face the likes of James McFadden in the Premiership side’s attack.
Clark said: “Jim Atkinson is a good young goalkeeper and I believe that he will go on to do well in the game. He is 19 and one of the best goalkeepers of his age as he has the good attributes of being quick and agile. He made a couple of crucial saves against Brora in the last round before Queen’s won the game comfortably by the end.”
Next season, Clark hopes to make his impact as a Saint as he explained: “After spending the second half of the season with Queen’s I am looking to go back to McDiarmid and fight for a first-team place in the summer.
“All I can do is look to keep doing well with Queens and shine in pre-season.
“Dislodging Alan Manus will not be easy as he has been in great form. I just need to keep my head down and see what happens.”
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