Sean Dyche admits the speed of Nick Pope’s emergence as a proven Premier League performer has come as a welcome surprise.
Pope has enjoyed an outstanding first top-flight campaign since replacing injured club captain Tom Heaton in September.
The former Charlton Athletic keeper has kept 10 clean sheets to help the Clarets claim a top-seven place and earn himself a mention in despatches as a possible England candidate.
Gareth Southgate has observed the Clarets on a number of occasions this season - including last Saturday's game with Southampton.
With Pope likely to have been among those in the England manager's sights, he did himself no harm with a top-class save from Josh Sims in the 1-1 draw at Turf Moor.
And Dyche is delighted with how the 25-year-old has handled the step up to the big time and contributed to the Clarets’ cause on and off the pitch.
“It was a great save and he is maturing well,” said the Burnley boss of his 2016 summer signing.
“I think he’s at a good stage in his development, especially working at this level of the game.
“That’s all credit to him and (goalkeeping coach) Billy Mercer and the other goalkeepers because I think we’ve got a really good group.
“Like most good goalkeeping groups they stimulate each other. The pressure is on in training to make sure they are delivering to stay sharp and I think they do that well.”
Dyche added: “As much as I believe in every player here, at times it’s surprised me, only in the sense that to come in relatively from nowhere – from the outside view, not within the club – and deliver the performances he has for him, and for us, has been very pleasing.
“He’s got a level head and he’s enjoying what he’s doing and that’s the key for me, to continue enjoying the challenge.
“Even with the tough run we’ve had, the enjoyment factor of the players is important and the feel-good factor of performances. I thought we were back to that last week against Southampton after a below-par one at Swansea.
“That’s an important thing in the way we work and the feeling has been really good this week. We want that to continue into the game on Saturday and Popey has definitely played his part in that, without a doubt.”
Saturday’s visit of Everton for a lunch-time kick-off at Turf Moor will see Pope line up at the opposite end to Jordan Pickford, with the Toffees’ keeper already part of the England set-up.
Pickford, capped once at senior level, will be hoping to go the summer’s World Cup finals with Southgate needing to fill three goalkeeping slots in his squad.
Heaton’s return towards full fitness will hopefully keep the door open for the 31-year-old to resume his international career ahead of the tournament in Russia.
And after another 90 minutes in a mid-week friendly, the Clarets’ skipper is closing in on a return to the Burnley squad to state his case.
“He’s coming back towards the thinking,” confirmed Dyche. “He will let us know when he’s fully ready and he knows the form of Popey as well and Anders (Lindegaard), who’s been sitting in the background a little bit.
“He knows he’s got to deal with that as well, but first things first, and as I’ve always said, he’s got to make sure he’s absolutely 100 per cent fit and he’s very close.”
As well as Heaton, there was also a 90-minute run-out in a behind-closed-doors game against Preston on Tuesday for defender James Tarkowski, who is back in consideration for the game against Everton as the Clarets look to end their 11-game winless league run and tighten their grip on seventh spot.
Chris Wood – who returned to the bench last weekend after two months out - also topped up his match fitness in the 4-0 win over North End, but Scott Arfield is not expected to be back following a calf problem as Dyche’s men look to complete the double over the ninth-placed Merseysiders.