KEVIN Long revealed he’d never felt closer to the Clarets first team after making his first Premier League appearance of the season in the win over Watford.

The 27-year-old is beginning to see his patience rewarded at Turf Moor after eight loan spells at five different clubs.

Having started the final three Premier League games of last season he has been a regular amongst the substitutes this season and finds himself as first replacement behind James Tarkowski and Ben Mee.

So when Mee failed to recover from an injury to face the Hornets Long was in for his 22nd league start for Burnley.

“This is the closest I’ve ever felt to the first team. Every year I’ve either been out on loan or not been involved but this is the closest I’ve been,” the Republic of Ireland international said.

“Hopefully I can kick on from here.

“It’s strange that this is the closest I’ve been and it’s the most successful the club has been, but it’s good.

“I keep working hard every year to try and improve myself and when the squad improves I’m improving with it because I’m training with better players every year. That’s only going to help me.”

When Michael Keane left Burnley in the summer Sean Dyche’s decision not to sign a replacement was seen as a show of faith in Tarkowski, who has risen to the challenge of replacing the England man.

But was equally a sign of Dyche placing his faith in Long to step in should injury or suspension befall either of his first choice central defenders.

“Yeah, definitely,” Long said when that suggestions was put to him.

“All I can do is work hard on the training pitch. I want to be playing but I never complain, the two lads ahead of me are doing really well so I can’t have any complaints there.

“When I get my chance all I can do is play well and hopefully that’s enough.”

Long, who celebrates eight years at Turf Moor in January and is the longest serving member of the squad, found out he would be facing Watford when Mee struggled through training on Friday.

But the win over the Hornets was a further sign of the strength in Dyche’s squad, with Burnley sitting seventh despite being without Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton and now Robbie Brady.

“I said that to a few of the lads, we’ve quite a few changes with Nick Pope coming in, Phil Bardsley coming in and myself and Scotty on Saturday,” Long said.

“It’s credit to the team, we work as a team, it’s not about individuals it’s how the unit works and we’ve done that quite well.”

Long will now hope to keep his place in the side for the visit of Stoke to Turf Moor on Tuesday night.

“It was nice to be back out there. I don’t know what situation Ben is in but hopefully if I’m called on again I do well,” he said.

“This week in training we’ve had a few injuries. A few weeks ago our squad looked pretty big then you get a few injuries and you think it looks small again. Every player is needed.”