ALLY Pickering returns to action tonight as Burnley Reserves step up their bid to avoid relegation.

An ankle injury ended Pickering's run of six first-team games following his move to Turf Moor in December.

And he was on the sidelines again as Burnley drew 1-1 at Lincoln City on Saturday with Neil Moore continuing in the number two shirt.

But the former Stoke City defender will play for a strong reserves side against Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park (kick-off 7.00).

Tonight's game has has come too soon for Ronnie Jepson and Paul Smith as they continue their rehabilitation from injuries.

But manager Stan Ternent will be able to name a side in which every player has made a first-team appearance this season, with the possible exception of midfielder Paul Graham who got as far as the bench at Gillingham.

The increasing strength of Ternent's overall squad is reflected by the make-up of tonight's reserve team which has previously been largely filled with youngsters.

And Ternent hopes that the second string will now be in a position to pull away from the Pontins League First Division relegation zone.

"The main thing about the reserves is to bring players on but it's sometimes easier to do that in a successful team," said Ternent, who also plans to push through some of the club's promising trainees in coming games.

"With the run of injuries we've had a lot of players from the reserves have been playing first-team football.

"They've all played in the first team at some stage, except Paul Graham who's had a taste.

"But all of a sudden we've not got so many injuries and I've got a stronger squad to select from. Hopefully the reserves can start to pick up as well."

Having been promoted as Second Division champions last season, the Clarets are currently second from bottom of the table with just three wins from 14 games. But they could go above Bolton if they complete the double over second-placed Oldham.

And with Ternent looking to improve his squad further for next season, he will want his reserves to be playing at as high a standard as possible to narrow the gap between Pontins and Nationwide League duty.

Joining Pickering in the squad tonight will be Frank Kval, Michael Devenney, Mark Ford, Matty Heywood, Rune Vindheim, Brad Maylett, Chris Brass, Kevin Henderson, Phil Eastwood, Paul Graham and Chris Scott.

Ternent's senior squad faces Luton Town on Saturday bidding for their first home win since beating Blackpool at the end of November.

Apart from the New Year game against Walsall, the Clarets have reserved their best displays for away from home where they have taken eight points from the last possible 12.

Their efforts have been appreciated by a growing away support which numbered 814 at Millwall and then 1,690 at Lincoln last Saturday.

And chairman Barry Kilby is hoping that the home fans will now enjoy the improvement Burnley have shown since Christmas.

"We had a great following at Lincoln and it would be nice to turn it on for the Turf Moor fans," said Kilby.

Kevin Keegan was today named as the Second Division manager-of-the-month after guiding Fulham to the top of the table during January and securing two FA Cup giant-killings over Aston Villa and Southampton.

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