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The Republic of Ireland defender feels the young Villa side learned a lot last season and have grown stronger as a backline, while also lauding the competition for places

Aston Villa defender Ciaran Clark believes the side's defence has improved greatly since last season, and has hailed the competition for places at Villa Park.

The 24-year-old has established himself as a regular member of the Paul Lambert's team, who have conceded fewer goals than reigning champions Manchester United this season, and was even handed the captain's armband in the absence of Ron Vlaar.

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Now, after surviving the scare of relegation in Lambert's maiden season, Clark feels the club have improved defensively after conceding the third-most goals in the Premier League last term.

"All last season we were learning the whole time," he told the Birmingham Mail. "It was a young squad last year, and each game we played in we were learning.

"But last season's gone now and we need to concentrate on this year. We've had a very tough start. Considering the top sides we've played against, we've managed to pick up quite a few points.

"Hopefully we can get some consistency going, keep the belief and confidence that's there and we'll have a good season. It's always nice as a defender to keep clean sheets."

Clark and defensive partner Nathan Baker have both featured in consecutive clean sheets against West Ham and Cardiff and the Republic of Ireland international is pleased with the competition they provide each other.

"When you get on you have to try to take your chance and I think both of us have done that this season," Clark continued. "We've both played well and both want to be involved and play.

"We are good mates and if one of us is playing the other one will fully back the other lad. I think that's the kind of belief we've got here at Villa

"Whoever's not playing wants the 11 players out there to do well and I think that will take us far."

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