Tom Heaton has endured a testing 18 months that would have frustrated any player. Seeing his career apparently stall, however, has given the Burnley man fresh perspective and he reckons helped him emerge a better goalkeeper with renewed England ambitions.
Heaton’s problems began in September 2017 when he suffered a dislocated shoulder that would sideline him for more than six months. In his absence, Nick Pope deputised, rising to the challenge to the extent he remained the No 1 after Heaton recovered and forced his way into England’s World Cup squad, with his team-mate on standby for the tournament.
A further setback came before the start of this season when Sean Dyche added Joe Hart, another England international, to his squad. Heaton’s opportunity finally came at the end of December, and his outstanding display on Saturday was a key factor in Burnley maintaining the seven-game unbeaten run that coincides with his return.
“It has been an interesting journey,” said Heaton. “Certainly a bit of growth for myself. I am a little bit more resilient. I tried to put the work in and make sure I was ready for the opportunity. It was tough. It’s a bit easier when you’re rehabilitating from the injury as you have something to chase. Once you get back and you’re fit and feel good and not playing, it’s difficult, frustrating. I always try to have a perspective, and that is something I probably learnt. Perspective.
“I’ve always been involved in football and chased the career down, but there is more to life than football. That’s just a fact. There are more important things in life. I love it every day. I have got a real hunger for it, but I can separate the two now, which is probably something that I needed.”
Burnley’s win at the Amex Stadium confirmed their resurgence, with Chris Wood scoring twice and Ashley Barnes converting a penalty before Shane Duffy replied for the home side.
Heaton’s first priority is to help Burnley maintain their form and extend the three-point gap to the bottom three, but an international recall inevitably figures in his thoughts. “Obviously I harbour ambitions to be back involved,” said the goalkeeper who has won three caps. “But there is a lot of water to go under the bridge yet.
“I think I’m a better keeper now. I’ve worked on my game while I was off. You get the opportunity to improve things technically, physically, mentally as well. I certainly think I’m in a better place than I’ve been for a long time.”
Defeat extended Brighton’s alarming run that has brought one win in 11 league games and leaves them level on points with Burnley, having been 10 points clear of the bottom three at the turn of the year.
“We are in it, and there’s no point in denying it or worrying about it,” said forward Glenn Murray.
“It is about being together and keeping and doing what we do. And I’m sure the gaffer won’t change. He never has in my time here. Whether it is close to relegation or close to promotion, he is very level-headed. And I’m sure that will remain the case.”