BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
DUNFERMLINE boss Allan Johnston has confirmed that Nicky Clark faces up to five weeks on the sidelines after undergoing surgery to cure an ankle injury.
The former Rangers marksman recently suffered a recurrence of the complaint which plagued him last term and, after consultation with a specialist, went under the knife at the tail end of last week.
He attended the Pars’ penalty-kick triumph against Hearts on Saturday on crutches as he embarks on the rehabilitation process.
Johnston acknowledges that Clark’s absence is a blow for the Pars, given the 26-year-old had started the campaign with four goals in three appearances. Nevertheless, the East End Park gaffer has expressed his relief that the player will be back relatively swiftly.
He said: “Nicky has been for his operation and thankfully it is nothing major.
“We are hopeful he will be back in around four to five weeks. We’ll just see how he progresses, while we should have Dean Shiels back this week.
“It’s frustrating for Nicky to get that sort of injury at this time of the season but we just need to get it sorted as quickly as possible. He’s a massive player for us, a natural goalscorer and he’ll be needed this season.
“But it’s maybe a wee chance for others, and I think everyone seen the potential in the performance of young Callum Smith against Hearts.”
Indeed, without Clark, precocious teenager Smith has a golden opportunity to stake his claim for a starting berth after a superb display against Hearts in the Betfred Cup.
The 17-year-old graduate of the Fife Elite Football Academy, who hails from Hill of Beath, tormented the Jambos back-line with his pace and power during the 2-2 draw at Tynecastle Park.
It was his first ever senior start and he claimed a classy assist for Declan McManus after skinning John Souttar on the flank, adding to his maiden goal for the first-team against Elgin at the start of this season.
And Johnston reckons it is only a matter of time before Smith starts to attract admiring glances.
He added: “He is still only 17 and I thought he was incredible at the weekend. He caused Hearts all sorts of problems with his work rate and he is only going to get better.
“He’s strong, has a lot of quality and, while he has a lot to learn, he is improving by working with the first-team and if he keeps progressing at this rate then there will be a lot of teams looking at him.”