Leighton Clarkson opens up on Aberdeen, Liverpool, Steven Gerrard and that James Maddison moment

Schooled by Steven Gerrard in the art of taking free-kicks and mimicking James Maddison’s last gasp free-kick winner against Rangers when on loan at Aberdeen, Leighton Clarkson’s education has been of the elite variety.

Leighton Clarkson celebrates his winning goal for Aberdeen against St Johnstone.
Leighton Clarkson celebrates his winning goal for Aberdeen against St Johnstone.

The 20-year-old Liverpool loanee had barely time to change into match kit when he announced his arrival at the club with a glorious 30-yard effort against St Mirren. He bettered that – in his own words – against St Johnstone as he netted a delicious, curling free-kick from the same distance that was the difference between the two teams.

If the moment of quality was clear, it was interesting to see who helped hone the technique.

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“It started when I was with the 18s at Liverpool and Gerrard was our coach,” said Clarkson. “We did a lot of one-to-ones with him and from then on I’ve just done it before every game. He was probably the best person to learn from.“It was more about where to hit the ball, the type of run-up and so on. He also said to take your time with it because you’re in control of the situation. Stuff like that. I always do that and try and find the angle I want to shoot at. Happily enough, it went in.”

Curiously, Clarkson rewatched Maddison’s winner against Rangers in 2016 on Friday night before then stepping up to score a replica of that effort.

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“He’s obviously a fantastic player and a guy who strikes the ball really well,” he said. “Funny enough, I watched that free-kick the night before the game. It just popped up on my phone. I didn’t know he scored it. As soon as I got the chance today, I wanted to take it. There wasn’t any discussions with Jonny Hayes. I think he knew deep down that I was always going to take it.”

If the set piece was the standout moment of the game, there were other glimpses of Clarkson’s quality. Jim Goodwin has already told the midfielder that his biggest challenge will be in bulking up if he is to cope with the rigours and athleticism of the English Premier League but in terms of the here and now he offers a little bit of quality for Aberdeen.Goodwin remains in the hunt for at least one more attacking player before the closure of this month’s transfer window but the dozen players that have arrived over the course of the last few months look capable of forming a far more fluent side than the team which floundered last season.

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It remains early days in terms of judging the success of the window but the response at the weekend following the defeat to Motherwell suggested a subtle shift in mentality. Aberdeen host Livingston next Saturday and the real judgement will come from the Pittodrie’s side ability to piece together significant runs of form to collate a consistent campaign.

There were moments in Saturday’s game where they played themselves into trouble; had Theo Blair shown a little more conviction there might have been a first-half lead for St Johnstone after Anthony Stewart had conceded possession trying to play out from the back.

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Still, it was difficult to disagree with Goodwin’s post-match summation.

“Do we look like a side that’s improving, do we look a better group than last season? I think that’s clear for everyone to see at the moment.”

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