GARETH Southgate hailed Tom Heaton as an 'outstanding character' as he explained the reason for placing the Burnley goalkeeper on his World Cup standby list.

Heaton hasn't featured for the Clarets since suffering a dislocated shoulder in September. He returned to fitness for the final couple of months of the campaign but found his path to the first team blocked by Nick Pope, who is one of the three goalkeepers included in the 23-man squad for Russia.

But Heaton had been a regular member of Southgate's squads until his injury and the 32-year-old was a surprise name on the standby list when the squad was announced on Wednesday.

It was the decision to axe Joe Hart that opened the door for Pope, who was named Burnley's player of the season, to be included in the squad, and Southgate explained that he felt Heaton was better suited to the standby role than the Three Lions' former number one.

Heaton, who has won three caps for England, will join up with the squad at St George's Park on Monday.

"Once you make a call, particularly with senior players, then you have to look at the standby list at a separate entity. What are the qualities you are looking for from those people? What are the requirements?," Southgate said.

"The likelihood is those guys don't get called into the squad, having said that history tells us maybe one or two do, so there's opportunity for those guys on the standby list.

"Each of those scenarios is slightly different, but in the goalkeeping situation in particular it's very unlikely the number four becomes the number three and very unlikely that the number three is then used in the team.

"With Tom it's a lift for him I think to be involved in that capacity, he's an outstanding character, he's coming in understanding the role. If you've been the number one and then you're asked to fulfill that role it's a very different challenge.

"I think the best think for Joe is to get his future sorted out this summer and focus on next season for him."

Hart has won 75 caps for England but he has struggled for form on loan with West Ham this season, while Pope has been one of the Premier League's outstanding goalkeepers since replacing Heaton.

"Of course it was a difficult call,2 Southgate said of the decision to leave Hart at home. "He played in most of our qualifying matches, he's been a big part of the England team the last few years and he's a valued member of the squad.

"But in the end I've got to look at performances over the last 18 months with their clubs and the three lads we picked were the three best English goalkeepers in the league this year."

Butland, Pickford and the uncapped Pope have won just nine caps between them but Southgate has no concerns.

"They are the best three English goalkeepers we have in the league," he said. "We are not picking young players because they are young and we are trying to buy ourselves time.

"We believe they are the best in their positions for the way we want to play. With the goalkeepers they have been the best three.

"OK, maybe it's brave to take players without a number of caps, but we have to give these guys belief.

"We're picking them not because they're young, but because they are the best in their positions. We know they're not the finished article.

"That's where we are at the moment. As a country we pick from 33 per cent of the (Premier League). It is quite a unique situation."