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Wood In The Frame But No Rush For Heaton

Top scorer could return as club captain works his way back

22 February 2018

Tom Heaton will not be rushed back into top-flight action but there could be return on Saturday for leading scorer Chris Wood.

Wood has missed the Clarets’ last nine games with a knee injury he sustained against Tottenham Hotspur before Christmas.

Burnley have not won in the striker’s absence but could have their record buy back in the squad to face Southampton at Turf Moor this weekend after he stepped up his fitness in a mid-week bounce game at the Clarets’ training ground.

“Woody got 70 minutes in so he’s back in the thinking,” confirmed manager Sean Dyche.

The same applies to left-back Stephen Ward, who made it back as far as the bench at Swansea City a fortnight ago and then played 90 minutes in Tuesday’s behind-closed-doors game against Blackpool.

Chris Wood scored his fifth Burnley goal at Bournemouth in November

Dean Marney put himself nearer the reckoning by featuring in that game, which also marked the return to action of club captain Heaton after five months out following shoulder surgery.

Heaton came through with no ill effects but is not yet in a position to try and win back the goalkeeper’s jersey from Nick Pope and prompt a selection decision from Dyche.

“Tom’s not there yet to worry about that,” said the manager. “Tom’s main thing is to get fit. He knows that and I know that.

“He’s been out a while. He’s done very well with his re-hab and so have the medical team.

“Now it’s about true fitness and as a keeper it’s about timing, getting your eye in and about reminding yourself about game awareness and game management and all the different things that add into a goalkeeper’s performance.

“He’s not under any pressure to be considered at the moment because we want him to be right, not just on what you see, but right in himself and that’s an important factor for us.”

Heaton also has the incentive of trying to win back his England place ahead of the World Cup Finals and Dyche is backing the judgement of his 31-year-old skipper.

“He a very bright professional. He’s not only very professional, he understands the profession, so he understands he’s got to be right, regardless of whatever else he’s looking for,” Dyche added.

“He has to be right for himself and he has to be right for the players and the team and he’s well aware of that.

“We’re as much governed by him. He’s certainly old enough and wise enough to know when he’s really on it and on top of his feeling of being a goalkeeper and that comes when playing games.

“He’s in a good place at the moment and he’s enjoying being back out there with the players and working with us.”

James Tarkowski has “a chance” of returning against the Saints after missing three games with a groin problem and Phil Bardsley is also back in training.

And even though Scott Arfield is a doubt for the first of back-to-back home games with a tight calf, Dyche is pleased to see the easing of an injury list which at one point included nine senior players.

“When the group is at its strongest point and everyone is vying for a shirt, that brings that edge,” said Dyche, whose side is still seventh in the table but without a win in 10 Premier League games.

“When you lose so many that edge can soften slightly.

“That group dynamic and in-house competition is very important, to get that kind of edge to a performance when you need it.

“It helps when all these bodies are coming back to full fitness.”

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