Duncan Shearer believes Harry Clarke’s departure from Ross County has come at the worst possible time for manager Malky Mackay.
Clarke, 20, has been recalled by parent club Arsenal and the defender, who can play at right-back or centre-half, is set to join Hibernian on loan for the rest of the season.
He has been joined in leaving Victoria Park by fellow defender Coll Donaldson. The defender has moved to Championship side Dunfermline on loan for the rest of the season.
Press and Journal columnist Shearer regards Clarke as one of County’s standout performers this term and expects Mackay will be back scouring his contact list in England for a replacement.
He said: “Losing Harry Clarke will be a sore one for County. He has been one of the players who really impressed me in the first half of the season.
“He’s a decent defender, but he likes to push forward and has chipped in with three goals.
“He has only missed two Premiership games for County all season, which tells you how highly thought of he was.
“Arsenal’s decision to recall him from his loan will be a huge blow for Malky Mackay at a time when it felt as if everything was just starting to settle at the club.
“The reports he is going to be sent back to the Premiership, but with Hibs, will rub salt in the wounds a little, but that’s part of the risk involved with loan players.
“Malky has good contacts in England and I’m sure he’ll be making some calls as he begins his search for a replacement.”
When Clarke’s departure from County was confirmed, a ‘disappointed’ Mackay, who thanked the player for his efforts, said he thinks the young Gunner ‘has become an even more rounded player’ in Dingwall.
Clarke scored three Premiership goals, as well as setting up two more.
Meanwhile, on the rationale behind sending 26-year-old Donaldson out on loan, a Staggies statement pointed to the stopper’s lack of playing time this season, with injuries earlier in the campaign restricting him to just four appearances.
The statement read: “We hope this loan spell will allow Coll to gain the important game time he requires in the second half of the season with a team that will be looking to push up their division.”
Could duo’s departure lead to return for Grivosti?
One player hoping to take advantage of the departure of two defenders is Tom Grivosti, who has spent the first half of the season on loan at League Two side Elgin City.
Grivosti is comfortable in both the right-back and centre-half positions, where Clarke and Donaldson play.
The 22-year-old has only played seven matches for the Staggies since October 2019, when he suffered a ruptured ligament between toe bones in a match against Rangers but has made 13 appearances since joining Elgin on loan in League Two.
Mackay says a decision has still to be made on whether to recall Grivosti or send him on loan to another club.
Elgin boss Gavin Price does not expect the County defender to remain with the Black and Whites.
Staggies gaffer Mackay said: “Elgin have been terrific for Tom. They are good people over there and we’ve got a good relationship.
“For two years, it has been a dreadful time for him. He’s a great young lad who clearly has talent.
“Having been out for that long, he just needed to go and play football. He needs to get back into playing.
“We’ll reassess it in January as to what the next best step is for him is, whether it is coming back here, going back to Elgin or whether it is actually looking at something a little bit higher up.”