"What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger", says Clarets captain Heaton

Burnley's goalkeeper Thomas Heaton is injured and substituted after this clash with team-mate Ben Mee and Crystal Palace's James McArthur
Burnley's goalkeeper Thomas Heaton is injured and substituted after this clash with team-mate Ben Mee and Crystal Palace's James McArthur

It's been a long journey but Clarets captain Tom Heaton is delighted to be back in action after nearly 12 months on the sidelines.

The England international made his first competitive start for the club since dislocating his shoulder against Crystal Palace when walking his team-mates out at the Karaiskakis Stadium to take on Olympiakos.

The 32-year-old returned to the bench in April in a 2-1 win against Watford at Vicarage Road but was an unused substitute in seven games.

Heaton's inactivity meant that there was only a place on Gareth Southgate's standby list for the World Cup in Russia, alongside James Tarkowski, but now he's taken his first step to getting back up the ladder.

Despite conceding three goals in the Greek capital, he said: "It felt fantastic. It's been a long old journey, 11-and-a-half months since my last competitive game, so it was brilliant to be back out there. It's the first step on the ladder for me and I'm looking forward to kicking on from there.

"It's difficult, it's been tough, it was a nasty injury and I had a few complications, but what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.

"I feel more resilient, I'm feeling hungrier than ever, I'm feeling in great shape. I'm delighted to be back, even though I was thrown straight in to the lion's den at a very tough place to go. I loved every minute of it and it was brilliant to be back out there.

"This is what I've been striving for, it's my first step tonight, I loved every minute of it and I'm excited to take it forward from here.

"A lot of training and a lot of work has gone in to it but it's nothing like getting to matchday and crossing that white line.

"It's difficult to recreate that so this is my first step back, I've been ready for it, I've been looking forward to it but you need to do it and now I'm looking forward to kicking on."

Heaton had been fresh from a season where he'd collected the Player of the Year accolade when sustaining his injury, similar to Nick Pope, and now he's determined to get back to his best.

The former Manchester United stopper, who had kept 10 clean sheets in 2016/17, as well as featuring twice for England against Spain and France, says that the goalkeeping department will help him reach his ambition.

Coach Billy Mercer will be working with three England international keepers when Pope returns, with Joe Hart having played four times, with three clean sheets, since joining from champions Manchester City.

Anders Lindegaard and Adam Legzdins are also part of an incredibly strong unit at Turf Moor and competition for places is fierce.

Heaton said: "The aim is to get back playing in the Premier League. We've got a great goalkeeping department at the moment, a lot of competition, but I can't hide away from the fact that my aim is to get back playing in the Premier League. I want to get going that way.

"There are five senior goalkeepers so it's a strong department but I'm looking forward to embracing that and I've taken the first step on my personal journey. That's certainly my ambition. You don't shy away from the competition and I'll meet it head on."

Heaton was beaten by Olympiakos skipper Kostas Fortounis in each half, once with a free kick and then from the penalty spot, while Andreas Bouchalakis gave his captain an assist when heading home his set-piece.

But he enjoyed the occasion, even though he accepts that it was a baptism of fire. "It was incredible," he said. "We knew what to expect but when you get here and realise what it's about and you hear it, it's incredible.

"It's great to play in. It's fantastic and I'm so impressed with the travelling support. It's a Thursday, four hours away on a plane, in Athens.

"I had a look at flights for my Dad and my wife but I found it difficult. I was speaking to somebody in the airport and hearing about some of the layovers.

"Some of the places that fans are arriving via is incredible. Real credit to them and it was great to have them here supporting us. We had a great backing."