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RYAN Clarke says he will be an even better goalkeeper when he returns to Oxford United’s first team.

The 30-year-old goes under the knife in Manchester today for the first of two operations on his shoulders.

The surgery will rule Clarke out for the rest of the season, but the U’s No 1 says that it is something that has to be done.

The former Bristol Rovers stopper has been playing with pain for more than two months, but the time came when he could carry on no more.

“As a goalkeeper, you always have niggles in your shoulders and you just get used to it,” he said.

“But I can remember playing at Cheltenham in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and I came for a cross, caught it and fell into a load of mud, but shoulder first.

“I remember thinking ‘oh, I might have done something here’, but just got on with it – that’s me.

“I have played for Oxford with dislocated fingers and other problems before, it’s just something you do.”

He added: “I haven’t been able to do everything in training for a while, but it hadn’t affected me in games and the team were doing well so I just carried on.

“I could have gone in and got it done earlier, but wanted to keep playing.

“But I said all along that as soon as it became an issue in matches, I had to sort it.

“And the Southend game in the JPT a week or so ago, made me realise something had to be done.

“It wasn’t so much the penalties they scored, but a couple of their goals I know that if I was 100 per cent and on my game, they don’t go in.

“So we made the decision between my-self and the management to get it sorted.”

Clarke will have his left shoulder operated on first, and then must wait for six weeks before having the other done.

It means there is no chance of him playing again this season.

“It will be a real grind, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “But I look at somebody like Dubes (Michael Duberry) as a bit of an inspiration.

“For him to have come back from what he had done (neck surgery) is just great and gives you real encouragement.

“There’s no doubt I will come back stronger though.

“I have had injuries before and I have always aimed to come back a better keeper after them and I have done.

“And I know that will be the case this time too.”