CLARETS midfielder Chris McCann makes a long-awaited return tonight as the reserves host Oldham Athletic at Turf Moor (kick-off 7 p.m.).
The 23-year-old returned to full training three weeks ago after recovering from a head operation to remove excess fluid – on the back of his recuperation from an anterior cruciate knee ligament reconstruction in August.
The Dubliner is back to full health and out to make up for lost time, having played only 100 minutes in the first team since initially injuring his knee in a tackle with Sunderland’s Michael Turner in September 2009.
Boss Eddie Howe confirmed yesterday morning McCann will start tonight, as he steps up his fitness and gets some game time under his belt.
Howe has seen his squad stretched by injury – indeed, Burnley have used the fewest players in the Championship this season with 24.
The potential return of McCann at a key stage of the season would be a big lift to the club’s play-off hopes.
Howe admitted earlier this month he was keen to see him in action.
He said: “I’m aware of his reputation and I’ve seen dvds of him.
“I’ve not seen him live as yet, so I’ll be looking forward to that.
“He’ll be an important member of the squad when he gets back fit.”
And on Thursday morning, he added: “Chris is close. He has done really well, he’s improving all the time in terms of fitness.
“The signs are really positive. He’s missed an awful lot of football, but we’ve been very impressed with him in training.”
McCann has already made 171 appearances for the club, despite featuring only twice since cruelly picking up a knee problem in only his sixth game in the Premier League.
He returned briefly in the FA Cup defeat at Reading last January, before breaking down in the defeat at Bolton four days later.
He made a reserve team return against Manchester United last April.
But after featuring in pre-season games at Bury and Oldham, in the first tour game in Singapore against Gombak, he suffered another setback, which prompted anterior cruciate knee ligament reconstruction before the start of the season.
Meanwhile, Brian Easton is hoping to take advantage of Danny Fox’s two-match suspension.
Fox picked up his 10th booking of the season at Bristol City, and will sit out the games against Ipswich Town and Leicester City.
The former Hamilton defender acquitted himself well as he made eight successive starts between November and January, when Fox was out with an ankle injury.
He said: “The manager’s probably happy with the way the left-back position is sorted out.
“With myself and Foxy, it’s quite good to have that competition because whenever either one of us is playing, we have to be on top form.
“We know if you let our form dip, the other would be happy to come in and take their place.
“Foxy has been suspended now and I’ve got my chance to come in.
“The way Foxy plays he picks up a few bookings, but you wouldn’t want him to change because he’s been doing really well.
“But it gives me a chance to come in and get a few games hopefully.”
Howe is the third manager Easton has mad to try to impress since signing in the summer of 2009.
He added: “We were in between managers when Foxy came back into the team.
“It was a bit frustrating, but it’s not in my personality to get down about it.
“I just got myself back on the training pitch to try to stay fit for my next chance.
“I don’t think any teams wants that confusion or imbalance when the managers are switching over.
“But I think since the new gaffer’s come in he’s done really well.
“All the players have really taken to him brilliantly, and it’s the start of a great run I think we could have with him.
“All the boys are ready to work for him and hopefully we get a few results in the next few games to get us back in the play-offs.”