Sean Dyche is hoping to see Ashley Barnes fit and firing for Burnley before the end of the season.
Barnes finished as joint top-scorer for the Clarets alongside Chris Wood in 2018-19, but has been hampered by injuries in each of the last two campaigns.
The 31-year-old, who missed nine months with a hernia problem last year, has been out since February 17 with a thigh injury, suffering setbacks in his recovery, but has returned to light training in recent days.
“It’s a strange one,” Dyche said of Barnes’ injury. “He actually played along with it when it was sore. Because he played along with it we didn’t understand how damaged it was, then when he had a scan it was quite a big tear.
“He’s been very unfortunate. It’s sometimes how it hits players over a career. Robbie Brady has been unfortunate, Johann (Berg Gudmundsson) has had his fair share, we’ve had two or three who have been unfortunate.
“They’re diligent pros but sometimes the body is not quite in the balance it needs to be for you to stay strong.
“He’s a strong character and I’m pretty sure he’ll come through it. He looks more alive, he’s getting himself more involved. He’s not training fully but it’ll do him some good and it’ll do us some good.”
Though Wood and Matej Vydra have formed an impressive partnership in recent weeks, Dyche would certainly welcome greater options in attack.
Jay Rodriguez is available to face Manchester United on Sunday after missing last week’s loss to Newcastle due to the birth of his child, but it remains to be seen when Barnes might be ready to return.
“I hope (he’s back this season), but there’s been so many times this season when I think we’re going to be back to a full complement and then we’ve got five injuries again,” Dyche said.
“I was hoping that after three weeks of the international break, I was very confident we would have pretty much everyone back fit and of course we haven’t. It’s been a real headscratcher and a real challenge.”
Burnley have turned winning positions into defeats in each of the last two outings, going 2-0 up at Southampton before losing 3-2, then allowing Newcastle to come from behind to win 2-1 at Turf Moor last week despite having 24 efforts at goal.
Allan Saint-Maximin came off the bench to do the damage as Newcastle scored twice in the space of six second-half minutes, but Dyche said he did not see anything in the game to give him major concerns.
“Over a period of time we’ve been defensively very strong,” he said. “We’ve had lapses of course, but not often. There are times when you have to work on these things and times when you know they have just stepped away for a moment in time.
“There are also times when you have to hold your hands up to good play from the opposition.
“We just haven’t got a couple of details right in key moments, there have been some mistakes which isn’t like us. We had a spell at the start of the season like that but eventually there was a very consistent level of performance from our back four and the goalkeeper, and the whole team defensively.
“So we don’t get too involved in it. It was the same with the strikers at the start of the season. They weren’t scoring. I said, ‘Don’t worry, they’ll score’ and they have done, so there’s belief in what we do.”
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