Naturally, it’s been a difficult season for Burnley fans.
Promotion to the Premier League has given us a few highs: that first victory at the tenth attempt against Hull in November; four points off defending champions Manchester City; a draw at Chelsea and so on, but largely, adapting to the trials and tribulations of top-flight football has been a frustrating experience.
Even over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had our relegation to the Championship confirmed and been told – as if it was ever in doubt – that Danny Ings would be departing this summer. The chinks of positivity have almost been nullified by the negatives, but those demanding fixtures in the Premier League have not been entirely in vain.
Tom Heaton, seen by many as the club’s best player over the course of the season, has been rewarded with a first call-up to the England squad for the Three Lions’ games against the Republic of Ireland and Slovenia next month.
Heaton has been consistently brilliant for us during his time at Turf Moor and, given his quality and family ties with the club, it feels like the only regret is that we didn’t sign him sooner.
A division-best 17 clean sheets in the Championship last season proved pivotal to our promotion, and the keeper has gone on to record nine more in his debut season in the top tier.
The adjustment to keeping out the likes of Diego Costa, Sergio Aguero and Alexis Sanchez has been seamless for the former Manchester United stopper, who ranks as the sixth busiest keeper in the league according to WhoScored.com.
With the Clarets bound to conceding more chances, shots on target and goals themselves, Heaton’s saves per match record of 3.3 stands up alongside the likes of Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris and West Ham United’s Adrian. The very best keepers in the division inevitably make fewer saves as they face fewer shots, so for Heaton to be joining such company brings to light his endeavours.
WhoScored.com also revealed the Burnley stopper has the best rating out of any of his contemporaries to play over five matches since the beginning of March, almost three months ago. The rating, at 7.36, means that over the season he has averaged out at 6.77 – a figure surpassing the likes of Joe Hart, David De Gea and Fraser Forster.
Heaton has saved the second highest number of shots from outside the box in the Premier League too with 54, edging out compatriot Rob Green (53) and narrowly behind Lukasz Fabianski (58).
While the stats make for impressive reading, they only reveal half the story. It is clear to anyone who has watched Burnley this season that Heaton has made a series of excellent saves to keep us in matches and, to a further extent, winning points. The obvious example comes from last year’s home match against Southampton, where a penalty save from Dusan Tadic saw the Clarets record a clean sheet and a priceless 1-0 win.
Heaton has aptly demonstrated the facets of any good goalkeeper’s game, from distribution and decision-making to organisation and handling. It breeds confidence, and gives the club’s attacking outfield players a licence to play and that safety to go forth, knowing they have a solid performer behind them between the sticks.
Foster injured and in poor form too – door open for Tom Heaton to be in the England squad. Few other PL keepers to pick from #twitterclarets
— Jamie Smith (@JamieSmiff) March 15, 2015
Murmurs of a call-up emerged as recently as late March for England’s double header against Lithuania and Italy. Heaton missed out on that occasion, but with Ben Foster and Fraser Forster sidelined and Jack Butland selected for the U21s, Burnley’s No. 1 joins QPR’s Green and Joe Hart that make up England’s goalkeeping contingent for next month.
Actual game time may elude Heaton, but should he grace the pitch he would become the first Burnley player to wear the Three Lions in over four decades. Roy Hodgson’s hand may have been forced somewhat to select Heaton due to mitigating factors, but it is still a sign of the manager’s faith.
It’s a deserved call-up for Burnley’s most impressive performer of the season, and here’s hoping he gets time to impress in an England shirt.
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