Last time Ireland played in Serbia, Ciaran Clark was a late substitute in what would be a dramatic 2-2 draw at the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.

As fate would have it, the two nations must pit it out again in the same location on Wednesday in the opening fixture on the road to Qatar 2022.

It will be a far different experience for Clark and co this time without the backdrop of a fervent home crowd in Belgrade.

"At the time I remember it was pretty hostile and they brought a massive crowd there," the Newcastle defender tells RTÉ Sport of that September 2016 night at the Rajko Mitic Stadium, which will have a markedly different feel due to the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Daryl Murphy, left, celebrating Ireland's second goal in Belgrade in 2016

"Like you said there, it's probably going to be an advantage for us at the minute, going into the games playing with no crowd and it could be different next season if we were to play them away then. It could have been a full stadium there.

"So to play them at this time is probably a good thing and obviously a slight advantage but nevertheless it's going to be a really tough game. It doesn't change what goes on on the pitch."

The 31-year-old is a leading candidate for a start in the defence in Belgrade following John Egan's injury, especially as he has had a run of games for Newcastle of late.

"I've managed to play a number of games now. It's nice to have a run of games but it probably hasn't gone as well as we'd have liked so far. But I've got the minutes in now and I'm looking forward to this camp and the games coming up," he says.

Clark came into the Ireland camp on Sunday, straight off the back of a chastening 3-0 loss to Premier League survival rivals Brighton. So is he looking at this international window as a welcome distraction from the struggles Steve Bruce's side are experiencing?

"It's probably come at the right time for us as a club," he responds.

Clark tackling Brighton's Neal Maupay in Saturday's defeat

"With the injury side of things and stuff, it gives us time to get everyone back in and get everyone fit. But for me personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge of the next two games. The qualifiers, they're games we want to go out and win and we want to get a positive result in."

The Serbia game could also see him grapple with a familiar face of Aleksandar Mitrovic, the target man who he soldiered alongside at Newcastle before the latter made the move to a Fulham side battling the Magpies to stay in the Premier League.

While Mitrovic is out of form, Clark sees the striker as an example of the talent Wednesday's opponents will bring to the table.

"We had a good season at Newcastle together before he moved on. He's shown how good he is and what a threat he can be and we need to be on top of that and on top of the other players that they have because they're a real quality side," he says.

Follow Serbia v Republic of Ireland via our live blog on RTÉ.ie/sport and RTÉ News app, watch live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player or listen to commentary on RTÉ 2fm's Game On