FORMER Clarets goalkeeper Chris Pearce has backed Burnley’s Nick Pope to continue his ‘Roy of the Rovers’ fairytale and become England’s number one at the World Cup.

Pope is one of three goalkeepers in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the tournament in Russia, despite making just 34 Premier League starts.

The 26-year-old has enjoyed a dream season at Turf Moor - replacing the injured Tom Heaton in September for his first taste of top flight football and keeping his place in the side since - winning player of the year awards at Burnley and now forcing his way into the Three Lions set-up.

“It’s unbelievable for him, I’ve seen him play a few times, he’s so confident, he commands his box and distributes really well,” said Pearce, who made 236 appearances in goal for Burnley between 1987 and 1992.

“He’s taken over from Tom Heaton and he’s grabbed the chance with both hands, he deserves everything he gets.

“Based on this season and what I’ve seen, I think he should be the England number one in the World Cup. Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford are two good goalkeepers, they might have a bit more experience than Pope, but on this season’s performances it should be Nick Pope.

“He’s been by far the best English goalkeeper in the Premier League this season.”

Pope, a £1million signing from Charlton in the summer of 2016, was an unknown when he stepped off the bench to replace Heaton early in the season.

He had made just 33 appearances in the Championship before his move to Turf Moor and Pearce, now 56, believes his rise is similar to that of Jamie Vardy’s.

“It’s been a fantasy story, it’s Roy of the Rovers stuff. He’s come from nowhere to the World Cup,” the former Claret said.

“It’s like Vardy’s rise, coming through to win the Premier League, it’s the same with Pope, he’s done incredibly well.

“With Pope and the manager he’s got in Sean Dyche, I don’t think it will go to his head, he seems well grounded, it’s great for him and it’s great for Burnley Football Club as well. To have two England goalkeepers at Burnley is amazing.”

He might have been an unknown to many, but Pope has fitted in well since his debut against Palace.

Pearce added: “He’ll have been nervous for his first game but he’s taken to it like a duck to water. He will be nervous, I’d be more worried if he wasn’t nervous, it shows you’re not taking things for granted if you’re nervous, I was nervous before every game I played in.”

While Heaton has had to settle for a place on the bench since returning to full fitness in early April, he has been named on the standby list by Southgate, despite not playing for the Clarets in more than seven months, and he was joined by teammate back James Tarkowski.

Pearce has plenty of sympathy with club captain Heaton.

“If he hadn’t got injured he would have been England’s number one, he’d been playing well, he was getting better and better every season,” he said.

“I wasn’t sure about him when he first joined Burnley to be honest but he proved me completely wrong.

“I hope he gets back to full fitness and where he belongs, but it’s incredible to have two England goalkeepers in the same squad at Burnley, it’s unheard of.

“But I do feel sorry for Tom. There could be a time when he and Nick Pope are England’s first and second choice though.”