TOM Heaton’s return to training has provided a lift to the whole Burnley squad, according to the man in possession of the No.1 shirt.
Nick Pope has impressed since standing in for the skipper at the start of September but the England goalkeeper’s return to training brings their head-to-head battle to be Burnley’s first choice keeper a little closer.
Heaton still has to build up his fitness as he continues to recover from a dislocated shoulder, before he can challenge Pope but the understudy is relishing having him back in the fold.
“When you’re injured it’s difficult, it’s the hardest thing about football, especially when you’re out for an extended amount of time,” said Pope.
“So to come back is a boost not only for him but for the lads to have the captain back out and there’s a buzz around.
“Everyone is buzzing for him really, to see him out there because we know how he feels. He’s looking good. It’s his first week so he’s not 100 per cent but it’s good to have him back out and looking good.”
Pope has made 20 successive Premier League starts since coming on as a substitute for the injured Heaton midway through the Turf Moor win over Crystal Palace on September 10.
The 25-year-old had never played in the top flight prior to this season and had made just 33 appearances in the Championship during his stay at Charlton, but he has banished any doubts about his ability to be a Premier League goalkeeper with his form leading to speculation over an England call-up.
Pope admits he has been delighted to prove to himself and others that he can thrive at this level.
“I’m trying to prove to everyone, not just myself,” he added.
“It’s nice to prove yourself at a new level as I have done from the Conference up, I’ve been playing at a new level every year or year and a half, so you do prove it to yourself.
“But you want to prove it to other people as well. It’s been a good first 20 games for me, I’ve enjoyed being in this team so hopefully I can carry on.”
Pope said his battle with Heaton for the gloves is ‘further down the line’, but he can take heart from the fact that boss Sean Dyche has always stuck to his policy of backing those in the team and playing well.
That allowed Phil Bardsley to keep hold of the right-back slot despite the return to fitness of Matt Lowton, but the Turf chief’s decision over his starting No.1 could be the toughest yet, with Heaton the club captain and a trusted lieutenant of Dyche’s.
“We’ve seen it with Bardo, he’s come in and done well and Lowts hasn’t managed to get back in,” Pope said.
“But the margins are tight at this club with the squad and the personnel in each position, it’s close between who gets that spot on the Saturday.
“It’s like that all over the squad and that’s the way it should be. We’re all pushing each other every week to keep those margins fine.”
Whatever happens in the coming weeks Pope has taken plenty of belief from his first extended run in the team.
“Confidence grows with games and stacking up the good performances. I’ve enjoyed being in this team and that’s helped,” he said.
“I’ve had help from in front of me and from the goalkeeping coach Billy and the gaffer as well, he’s shown a lot of faith in me.”
Source : LancashireTelegraph