After battling through an injury-plagued 21 months, Burnley’s Ashley Barnes is prepared for an equally tough tussle – with his own teammates.
The striker returned from his latest injury lay-off in dramatic fashion, crashing home a dramatic last-gasp winner for the Clarets in a 3-2 win against Crystal Palace at the beginning of the month.
Just a week earlier, Barnes had come off the bench against Manchester United at Old Trafford to help grind out a goalless draw – his first taste of competitive football since the final day of last season.
The striker had previously endured wretched luck on the injury front, with the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament ruling Barnes out for the vast majority of the last season, before he ruptured a tendon during pre-season to disrupt his preparations for the current campaign.
But now, following that priceless goal against the Eagles – which extended Burnley’s recent unbeaten run to three games – the 27-year-old has outlined his intentions to become a regular fixture in manager Sean Dyche’s starting line-up, which means ousting the impressive Sam Vokes and edging ahead of Andre Gray and Patrick Bamford.
"Everyone wants a starting shirt"
Speaking on his goal, Barnes explained the emotion of his strike was ‘relief, more than anything, to hit the back of the net and have that feeling back inside you.’
He added that ‘as a striker, that’s what you want to do and it’s been a long time coming’ and now, feeling fit and fresh, Barnes declared ‘I’m ready: I’m one of the lads again now ready for selection if and when the gaffer picks me.’
Burnley now boast an impressive quartet of diverse attacking options, with the last two winners of the Championship Player of the Year award – Gray and Bamford – an international striker in Vokes and now Barnes, a powerful forward who scored against the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur during his previous campaign in the top-flight with the Clarets.
And with the Clarets preparing to face West Bromwich Albion – another club Barnes has netted against – on Monday night, he outlined his desire to fight for a starting berth.
The striker commented on how ‘everyone wants to play, everyone wants a starting shirt, but competition for places now is better than last time,’ and acknowledged the depth of the current squad, insisting ‘you saw in the last game, I think that was the most attacking bench we’ve ever had.’