TOM Heaton says the pressure is rising in the race for automatic promotion, but with Burnley in the driving seat he insists it is “pressure with a smile”.
The goalkeeper faced an altogether different challenge this time last year, with old club Bristol City ultimately unsuccessful in their fight against relegation.
The 27-year-old is battling at the right end of the table now.
“Being down at the bottom last year, it’s almost a strain,” Heaton said.
“You go into every game on a knife-edge, whereas here – I won’t say there’s no pressure but it’s a nice team to play in and a great place to be at at the minute,” said Heaton.
“Last season was tough at times. We started out the season with the hope that it was going to be one like we’ve had this year at Burnley and it wasn’t to be that way.
“But it’s been about getting strength of character from that and building a bit of toughness from it, and I’ve enjoyed this year.
“No matter what level of football you’re playing at, whether you’re playing on the park with your mates or in Champions League finals there’s always a certain amount of pressure because you want to perform, you want to play well, so you can never really get away from that fact. But it’s pressure with a smile, you can enjoy it rather than fear it. I think you’ve got a good mix there and that’s what the manager preaches.
“If you can enjoy the challenge of it you’re probably going to do better than if you don’t.”
He credits Sean Dyche with keeping the Clarets in that frame of mind.
“It probably comes from the manager really because everything’s simple. He simplifies it and makes it easy to just focus on the simple things. If you do that you’re going to give yourselves a great opportunity,” he said.
“That’s the message he spreads and it’s great as a player to have a few simplified things to keep your focus on, it makes it pretty straight forward.”
And although Burnley head to Watford this afternoon without key players Sam Vokes, Dean Marney, Danny Ings and, in all likelihood, Kieran Trippier, Heaton insists they will not sweat over their cushion.
“I’d be trying to avoid any panic even if we were one point behind. I think it’s important we keep that plateau of emotions in check and making sure it stays on a level playing field and just focus on what the job is, to go and get results in football matches and take one at a time,” he said.
“If you can focus your mind on that and not get distracted with the things going on I think you’ve got a better chance of performing and better chance of picking up results from there.
“From my experience last year I know which end of the table I’d rather be at. It’s a great position we’re in. It’s just important we focus on what’s right in front of us and that starts with today.
“We’ll be looking to go to that game, get three points and then move onto the next one.”
And Heaton admitted that Vokes’ untimely season-ending injury had provided an additional incentive for Burnley to get over the line and make promotion to the Premier League reward for the striker’s 21-goal campaign.
“That’s an added bit of motivation to make sure we do it for him,” said the stopper.
“I said to him after the game last weekend he’s been unplayable this year.
“It’s a tough one for him to deal with now with a long spell out but he can take heart from how he’s been this year and getting back to that.”