HAPLESS striker Danny Ings could be back in contention for the Clarets sooner than expected.
The 20-year-old has faced a fight for fitness since signing for the club last August, suffering a freak injury in training within a week of his £1m. move.
He made 15 appearances for the club, scoring three goals in that period, after making his debut against Barnsley on Valentine’s Day.
But after looking sharp in pre-season, Ings suffered knee cartilage damage in Burnley’s final friendly at Rochdale and was expected to miss the majority of the campaign.
The new year had been his expected return but Burnley boss Eddie Howe has confirmed that he’s recovering well from the operation and is now running as part of his rehabilitation process.
“Danny, since the operation, has got really good,” said Howe. “He’s felt strong enough to start running. He had to wait for the surgeon’s ‘okay’ but now he’s got that, it’s great news for us and for him. Things are going really well with his rehab so far. We’re really pleased.
“He could be like a new signing but he’s not back yet. Hopefully when he is, absolutely. We did fear losing him for six to eight months and hopefully now that won’t be the case. He should be back in a short period.”
Howe added: “It’ll be a huge boost for him. When you’ve suffered one long-term injury the last thing you need is another. When he first suffered it I think he feared the worst having been through what he did last year but he’s feeling very good at the moment.
“Hopefully we’ll benefit from that when he is fit. It’ll be like having a fresh player on our hands.
“We always assist the player and understand how they feel in their own bodies. What I do know is that Danny will do everything he can to come back as quickly as he can, he’s that type of character.
But, very similar to Martin Paterson, we want to get Danny fit long-term and we want him playing for us week in week out so we’ll have to manage it properly.”
Howe admits he’s been buoyed by the news on Ings but understands that his recuperation remains a delicate process.
The Clarets boss won’t be rushing his striker back in to action, and he faces a similar conundrum with the likes of skipper Jason Shackell, Junior Stanislas and Paterson ahead of tomorrow’s fixture with Millwall at Turf Moor.
“Jason and Junior are both still quite sore so we’ll have to leave the decision as late as we can to see if they’re fit,” Howe said. “Hopefully they’ll play some part in the next week but we’re not sure when as yet.
“That’s the life of a manager. You have to get the best out of the players you have while trying to keep them on the pitch and as fit as possible.
“With a small squad it’s so important that you’re very careful of what you do in training and how you manage the players physically because we need the maximum of game time available for them.”
He added: “Against Derby we didn’t know how Shackell would be until the warm-up. It was literally that late. We decided not to give him a fitness test because they can aggravate injuries so it was very much a case of seeing how he got on. Thankfully he fought through it and he played very well considering he was only 50 per cent fit.
“It’s been relentless for us which was why against Swindon we had to rotate a couple of players. That’s what the squad is for. With the number of games we have it does leave us exposed a little bit.
It was very important we rotated the squad, we did that but unfortunately we didn’t get the result we wanted. Hopefully it means a couple of players can come back in for Saturday.”
Howe is understandably delighted to be back on home soil and is under no illusion has to how important the next couple of fixtures will be in shaping his side’s season. But, at the same time, he won’t be under-estimating tomorrow’s opposition following results in previous meetings at Turf Moor.
“It’s great to be back, especially when we’ve won two out of three game at home and performed pretty well,” beamed Howe.
“We’re delighted to be back on home turf. The crowd can give us that extra push we need as well. Our home form is going to be pivotal to us this year and the next two games are massive for us.
“You only have to take a look back at the last two seasons for us to see it’s going to be a very difficult game.They are a tough nut to crack, very physical, a real threat from set plays, so we won’t underestimate Millwall. You know what you can expect every time you play them.
“We’ve certainly got to perform better than what we have done in the last two home games against them. Those results make us aware of the difficulty of the league. Everyone associated with Burnley will see this as a must home win, we certainly share that view, but that doesn’t go to say it’s going to be easy.
“All Championship fixtures are tough. Millwall are very well organised and well managed by Kenny Jackett who has done a fantastic job there down the years. They haven’t changed a great deal from last year, so we’re still wary of their threat.”
The Clarets have been on the wrong end of numerous spectacular strikes this season with Boro’s Adam Reach and Luke Williams and Brighton’s Craig Mackail-Smith all registering thunderbolts. But Howe still believes Josh Wright’s strike last season still tops the list.
“Probably the two Middlesbrough goals are up there with it but I have to say Josh Wright’s is the pick of them,” said Howe. “To pick a volley out like he did was incredible.
“As a manager you always look at how you’ve conceded goals but for that goal you have to give an enormous amount of technical credit to the player because it was a fantastic strike. It was a great goal in isolation but one we don’t want to see repeated.”
The Clarets are yet to share a stalemate this term, a statistic that Howe believes outlines his side’s strengths and weaknesses. Howe knows the Clarets pose a goal threat but they’ve shipped as many goals as they’ve scored in the league with 13.
“It gives us a reflection of our strengths and weaknesses,” Howe declared. “We are certainly capable of winning games and scoring goals. You can expect good entertainment at both ends of the pitch but we certainly know that we have to tighten up, and it’s mainly from set plays.
“We’re disappointed with the number of goals we’re conceding from set plays whether direct or second phase. In open play we’ve been pretty tight. We know the areas we need to improve.”
Howe added: “When you look at this run of fixtures it’s a very important three games for us. At this stage of the season with plenty of games to go we need to build some momentum and consistency.”