SEAN Dyche feels Nick Pope is capable of challenging Tom Heaton on the international front, as well as at club level.

Pope is feeling Burnley’s number one breathing down his neck after Heaton played his first game in more than five months when he featured in a behind closed doors game in midweek.

Dyche insists Heaton will not be rushed back from his shoulder injury, despite the prospect of a place in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the 2018 World Cup at stake.

But with 11 clean sheets from 27 games in Heaton’s absence, Pope’s form means he could also be considered a contender, with Southgate a regular at Turf Moor this season.

“I think his performances have shown a level of consistency to be in amongst the thoughts,” said Dyche of Pope. “It’s not my decision on whether they think he’s ready for it.

“I think he’s done enough to be certainly at least on the radar.

“I haven’t spoken to Gareth so much about the individuals because I don’t think that’s fair.

“If he asks my opinion I’d be happy to help him, but I don’t force it upon him.

“When he rings or I speak to him I just give him a little broad view of what I think the players are doing. Inevitably it’s down for him and his players to decide.”

But Dyche said a World Cup place would not be a factor in Heaton’s Clarets comeback, which he is not prepared to rush.

“He’s not under any pressure to be considered at the moment because we want him to be right, not just what you see but right in himself. That’s an important factor for us,” said the Burnley boss.

“He’s a very bright professional I think. And what I mean by that is that he understands the profession, so he understands he’s got to be right, regardless of whatever else he’s looking for. He has to be right for himself, for the players and the team, and he’s well aware of that.

“We’re as much governed by him. He’s old enough and wise enough to know when he’s really on it and on top of his feeling of being a goalkeeper, and that comes with playing games. He’s in a good place at the moment, he’s enjoying being back out there every day and working with us.

“Tom’s main thing is to get fit – he knows that and I know that. He’s been out a while, he’s done very well with his rehab and so have the medical team with that, and now it’s that true fitness. As a keeper it’s about timing, it’s about getting your eye in and reminding yourself of your game awareness, your game management and all the different things that add into a goalkeeper’s performance.”

Asked if England ambitions were in the back of Pope’s mind, Dyche added: “I don’t know. The good thing this season is there are performances from players who have certainly at least made a mark.

“I respect Gareth and I hope for him to do a great job, and he’s shown signs of that already. He’s certainly become respectful of the group we have here, I know that for a fact, and he’s come to watch many games and I think in a serious way, not just to throw his eyes on people but to actually consider some of these lads with a depth that it takes to understand whether he deems them good enough or wants them.

“I’m pleased the club and the players have certainly made a mark on the international scene. Whether they make it or not is for Gareth to decide, if we’re just talking about England.

“We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see what players go into the mix at the end of the season.”