(Reuters) - Burnley will not rush goalkeeper Tom Heaton back into top-flight action but there could be a return for top scorer Chris Wood against Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday, manager Sean Dyche said.
After five months out with a shoulder injury, Heaton was back for Tuesday’s behind-closed-doors game against Blackpool at the club’s training ground. Dyche said he needs to further boost his fitness levels before he can win back his first-team spot from Nick Pope.
“Tom’s main thing is to get fit,” Dyche told a news conference. “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.”
Wood also played in the midweek game at Burnley’s training ground after missing their last nine competitive matches with a knee injury sustained against Tottenham Hotspur in December.
Dyche confirmed midfielder Dean Marney and left back Stephen Ward, who made it to the bench against Swansea City, could feature this weekend.
James Tarkowski also has a chance of returning after missing three games with a groin problem and Phil Bardsley is back in training, easing Dyche’s injury list which at one point included nine first-team players.
“When the group is at its strongest point and everyone is vying for a shirt, that brings that edge,” Dyche added.
“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.”
Burnley are seventh in the standings but without a win in last 10 league matches.
Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar