Burnley captain and goalkeeper Tom Heaton took a major step on his long road to recovery this week after playing 90 minutes in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Blackpool at the Clarets' training ground on Tuesday.
England international Heaton has been out of action since dislocating his shoulder in a Premier League win over Crystal Palace in September, just four games into the 2017/18 season.
Understudy stopper Nick Pope has more than admirably filled in during the 31-year-old's long absence, but Heaton's return will offer a huge boost for the Clarets between now and the end of the season after a poor run of form since mid-December.
Heaton conceded a penalty inside the first minute of the game and was unable to keep out the subsequent Blackpool spot kick. The final score was 1-1, but it took on much more significance.
And, not only did the private friendly give Heaton a chance to get some minutes under his belt, key striker Chris Wood made his return after nine games out with a knee problem. Veteran midfielder Dean Marney was also back after a recent setback on his own journey to full fitness.
Stephen Ward, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Nakhi Wells all took part in the game as well.
Having had a week off while the Premier League paused for the FA Cup fifth round, Burnley are back in action for real on Saturday when relegation threatened Southampton travel to Turf Moor.
Sean Dyche's team remain seventh in the table despite going 10 games without a win. They have finally lost touch with the top six, though, and are now vulnerable to being overtaken by Leicester and Everton in eighth and ninth respectively.
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