Clarets skipper embracing the challenge

Tom Heaton
Tom Heaton
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Clarets captain Tom Heaton insists Burnley are embracing the three-way challenge for the Premier League.

Two points separate leaders Middlesbrough from Burnley and third place Brighton, with three games remaining.

Three into two won't go in the race for automatic promotion, but Heaton says there are no nerves in the Clarets' camp.

Heaton, who was named by his peers as the PFA Championship team of the season's goalkeeper, said, ahead of tonight's derby at Preston: "It's a feeling of excitement, to be honest, after a good late goal against Middlesbrough - you saw at the time the feeling that gave everyone.

"It keeps adding to the momentum, we're 20 unbeaten, that doesn't guarantee you anything, but we'll go into the next game looking for more of the same, to put in the processes which will hopefully get us the right result.

"I try and compartmentalise it, it's far better being this end of the table, I try and have a positive outlook on it, it's exciting, there's no anxiety or nerves, we're looking forward to the challenge, that's the way we look at it.

"It was very difficult to have that approach with Bristol City at the other end of the table.

"It never leaves you but I'm the big 3-0 now and you find ways to deal with it, it's part and parcel of the game, that's why we all love it, enjoy it as much as you can."

The spirit among the players is well documented, but the 30-year-old feels it is stronger than ever on the back of a 20-game unbeaten league run: "I think that (never say die attitude) has been evident all through my time with the club, and I think it's building and getting stronger and stronger.

"The manager mentioned it numerous times, that strong jaw, we go behind in games and things don't go out way - it's part of football, part of sport, and it can be difficult to cope, but one thing about the character in the dressing room is we're able to do that.

"We may have to use it again and we'll make sure we do if needed."

On the club's best run since 1982, he added: "Its obviously a fantastic stat, a great record, but it doesn't guarantee you anything.

"The important thing is everyone keeps doing the things that have got us this great record, take it into each game.

"All the focus is on Preston, we know it's going to be a tough test, a local derby, but one we're all embracing and looking forward to.

"There's going to be real excitement on the night, and we'll be doing everything we can to get the right result.

"Its certainly looking like that (going down to the last game), all three teams have been on good runs, all very good sides, and it's going to go right to the wire.

"We're all human but I try not to look at what the other teams are doing, the most important thing is the focus remains on what we do.

"We had a tough test last week with them playing twice before we did, but we stood up to that really well, because it can be tough.

"But that was a good reminder to focus on what we're about, and we did that in a tough game at Birmingham."

How much is means to the players was evident in their celebrations after Michael Keane's injury time leveller against Middlesbrough, and Heaton smiled: "We've seen it, it was fantastic, you can't fake that. It's a real authentic feel, I thought the whole place erupted.

"It was incredible. We all know the importance of it, slightly disappointed not to come away with more, it was a quiet night for me - disappointed to concede in the manner we did, but it's part and parcel of it.

"Eventually Keano shinned one in and got us a point!

"I get into my own world, let the chimp out of the box for a few minutes and try to get the focus back.

"But even the players who didn't make the squad, they were celebrating like crazy. And you just don't get that feel at every club, and that's one thing we've certainly got, that character and culture where we're all in it together.

"That will stand us in good stead."

The fans are also vital, as Heaton acknowledged ahead of the trip to Deepdale: "You get the feel of how much it means to everyone, and it's great to have that passion behind you. Home and away the support has been incredible, certainly in recent games, that away support has carried us through in some games, and it can help an awful lot.

"We all know it's an important game, a massive local derby anyway, but we don't fear it. It's another great game to go and play.

"We looked at the Birmingham game as a tough one, but we met it head on, Boro speaks for itself, and this is another great opportunity to go and get yourself three points ahead of the weekend.

"We try and have that sort of outlook, embrace the excitement."