Date: 8th January 2006 at 1:36pm
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Wolves Manager Glenn Hoddle has spoken out to defend his much maligned Striker, Leon Clarke from critiscism surrounding his goal celebration during his sides one nil win over Plymouth Argyle

A local lad, Leon Clarke was fast tracked into the Wolves seniors by Dave Jones when at the start of the last campaign, injuries left him no choice. After a prolific run in the reserves,,he became an instant hit with the fans for his bustling play in and around the penalty area, scoring on his full home debut.
He ended last season having made 12 starts with 19 appearances as substitute, and an 8 goal tally that helped him win the fans Young Player Of The Year vote. So where did it all go wrong?

This season, dogged by rumours of off field lifestyle problems, strenuously denied by player and club, Leon has failed to set the world on fire. A drop in confidence has been apparrent to all including his manager Glenn Hoddle, but Hoddle has refused to withdraw his man from the spotlight, and was pleased to see his young centre forward get a goal.

‘I stuck by Leon and played him today. He worked hard and I’m pleased he got us the winner. The goal will give him confidence.’ he said

Clarke took his chance well,calmly bringing the ball down on his thigh before firing a low shot into the Plymouth goal.It was the kind of chance Wolves have been missing of late ,so it was inevatable there would be some kind of celebration, and also that Hoddle’s opinion would then be asked.

?I don?t think he did anything wrong in that,? said Hoddle. ?It was human nature. I do not have a problem with it and have not spoken to him about it.’

So what did Leon Clarke actually do to earn more terrace invective?

After scoring, Clarke ran off towards the fans, relieved,happy, and adrenalin driven and perhaps feeling a little aggrieved after suffering weeks of derision from some of the most demanding fans in the land. At that point he raised a finger to his lips. That most offensive of gestures. The effect was immediate,as more booing followed whenever Leon touched the ball.

They used to say, ‘If you can’t take it, don’t give it.’ But now things have changed. Now, the same people that call radio shows, and post extremely colourful abuse on internet sites anonymously can also take afront at a young man raising a finger to his lips. I’m not sure which is the more childish. Leon’s gesture, or the level of offence it has caused. It’s hardly Robin Friday territory, is it?

From Leon Clarkes current position, it was hardly the best move he could have made, but in the heat of the moment players often do things that have a future consequence. Don’t they Vio.

Hopefully a goal will now spur Clarke on to greater things, and the start of a healthier relationship with the fans, but I doubt it. There is a danger of the Molineux scapegoat spotlight being firmly fixed on Leon for quite a while, and that has never been a comfortable place to be.Its also a hard place to duck out of. Hard work,improvement and a return from his efforts, goals, are about the only options open to him now.