Barnes returns fitter and better for run-in

Burnley's Ashley Barnes is foiled by Brighton's David Stockdale

Photographer Rob Newell/CameraSport

Football - The Football League Sky Bet Championship - Brighton and Hove Albion v Burnley - Saturday 2nd April 2016 - American Express Community Stadium - Brighton

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Burnley's Ashley Barnes is foiled by Brighton's David Stockdale Photographer Rob Newell/CameraSport Football - The Football League Sky Bet Championship - Brighton and Hove Albion v Burnley - Saturday 2nd April 2016 - American Express Community Stadium - Brighton � CameraSport - 43 Linden Ave. Countesthorpe. Leicester. England. LE8 5PG - Tel: +44 (0) 116 277 4147 - admin@camerasport.com - www.camerasport.com
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Clarets striker Ashley Barnes believes he is “fitter and better than before” after returning from cruciate and medial knee ligament damage.

Barnes was sidelined following the final Premier League game of last season at Aston Villa, in what initially looked like an innocuous collision with Fabian Delph.

But the 26-year-old returned to the squad for the first time at his former club Brighton on Saturday, making his first return to the Amex Stadium since a £400,000 switch in January 2014, and was on the pitch as the Clarets claimed a dramatic late equaliser.

Now the frontman is looking forward to the final push, beginning with his Turf Moor return against Cardiff City tonight (kick off 7-45 p.m.).

“It’s gone quick to be fair,” he said.

“It’s been a good journey and I’ve managed to strengthen every other part of my body as well, and hopefully I’m fitter and better than where I was before.

“It’s for us to keep pushing on now and nicking those points along the way, and hopefully we can replicate the promotion season and do it again. We go into Cardiff, which is another tough game, and then we’ll go again on Saturday.

“I’m sure I’ll get a brilliant reception from the home crowd at Turf Moor.

“They turned out in numbers again at Brighton and packed out behind the goal, which is amazing.”

Barnes scored five goals in the Premier League last term, and was expected to be a key player for the Clarets as they looked to bounce back.

However, after coming through five behind-closed-doors games, completed 90 minutes three times, Barnes is raring to go in the remaining seven games of the season.

He spoke of his delight after featuring in his first competitive match since May in the 2-2 draw against the Seagulls, replacing top-scorer Andre Gray in the 81st minute.

And the 26-year-old reflected on the drama in the closing stages of the televised Championship fixture, with Michael Keane snatching an equaliser in the third minute of time added on, after having a header controversially ruled out moments earlier.

“It was brilliant as it’s the first time for me coming back here, and I got a good reception from home and away fans,” he said.

“I just wanted to go on and try to score, maybe get the winner or just the equaliser.

“That was my main thought, just to do the basics.

“For the disallowed goal, I was coming in from the back stick, and I’ve seen it so far over the line and you can tell by our reaction to celebrate, so I don’t know why they didn’t give it.

“Luckily enough we weren’t robbed in the end, and we got another goal and it was good resilience from us to keep going past the 90 minutes.”