Defender James Tarkowski understands the challenge that he faces in his attempts to dislodge Burnley’s central defensive duo.
The 24-year-old signed from Brentford just short of 12 months ago with the Clarets five games in to what transpired to be a 23-game unbeaten run as they clinched the Championship title.
Tarkowski, who began his career with Oldham Athletic, deputised for Michael Keane in the 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest at Turf Moor after the defender had collided with Lee Camp in the previous game against Rotherham United.
He was then handed a second start in the victory over Bolton Wanderers at the Macron Stadium, with Keane still sidelined as a precaution with a head injury, though that proved to be the last time he would be included in Sean Dyche’s starting XI for a league encounter.
And with Ben Mee landing the player of the year award from his peers last term, coupled with former Manchester United man Keane’s recent call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad, Tarkowski’s task has grown considerably tougher.
“It’s difficult, it’s not been easy and I’m not going to say it is,” he said.
“I want to play football.
“I’ve come on here and there and I feel like I’ve done ok.
“Obviously it’s down to the gaffer to pick the team and the two lads have done well.
“It would be a bit harsh to drop either of them so I’ve just got to be patient and stick about and try and get as many minutes as I can.”
He added: “I don’t think I deserve to be out of the team, but I can’t get in the team, so it’s tough, but I try and speak to the gaffer as much as I can and give him a little nudge to say I’m ready to go if you need me and hopefully at some point he’ll pick me.
“But I’ve come a long way from where I was a few years ago so I’ve got to look at that, but I’ll be looking to get as many minutes under my belt as I can, if that’s in cup games then so be it.”
Tarkowski made his second start of this season at the weekend, partnering Mee at the Stadium of Light as the Clarets took Sunderland to a replay in the third round of the FA Cup.
The centre-back, who helped the Bees gain promotion from League One during the 2013/14 campaign, has been called upon from the bench on seven occasions so far this term and he’ll be pushing hard to add to that.
“It’s a team game and you want everyone to do well, even if personally I’d rather be playing and I’m pushing as hard as I can to get into the team,” he said.
“It’s all about patience, there’s a long way to go in the season and hopefully I’ll get my chance to play and impress.
“It’s not easy but that’s part of the role of the gaffer and the coaching staff, and your family and agent and the lads around you to help you out and help you through that.
“We’ve got quite an experienced squad here who I can speak too, and a lot of them have been in my situation.
“I was speaking to a few of the lads who said when they came up last time they weren’t as prepared as they are this time.
“We’ve got a really good squad, I wouldn’t say it’s huge but it’s tight knit and good quality throughout and lads who want to work for each other, and it’s shown this season.”
While Tarkowski is finding his opportunities limited at presence, the defender is confident that his time will come as he plans to stay in the Premier League for the long haul.
“It’s great to be going to all the different stadiums, but I want to be here for the long term now, I don’t want to drop down after a couple of seasons,” he said.
“I want to stay here (PL) for the rest of my career or as long as I can. I want to get more minutes under my belt, so I’ll be looking to do that this season.
“We’ve picked up some really good points at home. The lads want to do a bit better away from home but had you told us we’d be in this position at the start of the season we’d have taken it.
“There’s another big half (of the season) to go, but we’re very confident of what we need to do to stay up.
“If we can build on what we’ve done so far this season and stay up then we can look to next season and really establish this club in the Premier League.”