TOM Heaton is in no doubt about the secret to Burnley’s success this season: teamwork.
Games where much has been asked of the former Manchester United, Cardiff City and Bristol City goalkeeper this season have been few and far between, with the Clarets boasting the second most miserly defence behind QPR.
But while Sam Vokes and Danny Ings have grabbed the headlines and attention for their outstanding contribution to the ‘goals for’ column, Heaton insists that is where the defensive framework also starts.
“One of the problems we had at Bristol City last year is that the defending was left to the defenders,” said the stopper, who has conceded only 18 goals in 24 Championship games – eight fewer than leaders Leicester City.
“It doesn’t really work like that here.
“The two lads up top and the midfield set the tone for the defenders and it makes us really difficult to break down and difficult to play against.
“It’s fantastic to be behind that and have that team ethic of not conceding goals.
“It sounds ridiculously simple but it’s not easy to achieve day in day out. It’s not an easy mix. But it really has come together nicely and it’s a great ethic to work to.
“It takes hard work, it takes strength of character.
“If the front men have run 60 yards to try to get the ball and not got it, they’ve got to travel back to maybe just chase the ball down or try to get back into position.
“It does take a strength of character.It’s been bred from the manager since day one that I’ve been here.
“The lads have taken to it really well and have shown the effects of doing so because we do it really well and it makes a really big difference.
“It’s nice to be a part of a side that play as a team.”
Heaton, who secured a season-best clean sheet tally of 12 with a goalless draw at Wigan Athletic last month, added: “The star thing for me this season has been the team mentality.
“We’ve had some good individual performances, like Sam and Ingsy definitely, but I think the outstanding thing for me is the way the team has worked.
“It’s all worked together, defending and attacking.
“When we go down in a game, when we go up in a game, if we’re holding on with 10 minutes to go.
“We rely on that team framework and system and everyone pulling their weight. It’s nice to be a part of.”
And Heaton insists they will need that pattern to continue tomorrow, despite Yeovil sitting second bottom ahead of the Huish Park meeting - a first visit for Burnley.
"They've come into the league and done well,” said the 27-year-old.
“It will be a tough place to go, and I think they've been decent on their own patch “They were tough in the home game. For 75 minutes they were excellent, we had a slice of luck and managed to open the door.
“We’ll be expecting a tough game, and looking forward to it.
“We won't be taking them lightly, but it’s a great chance to get something out of the game, which is what we’ll be trying to do.”
Tomorrow’s trip is another long trip for the Clarets, on the back of an action-packed festive period which was rounded off by last weekend’s FA Cup tie at Southampton. But although they are clocking up the miles (more than 530 in total this weekend) the stopper stressed there would be no ready-made excuses. It is business as usual.
“Obviously that’s a little bit of a factor but not one we’ll be letting bother us. Hopefully we can shrug that off,” added Heaton, who is looking to take the positives out of the Clarets’ third round exit.
“Away from home at a Premier League side and 2-0 down and they’re bopping it round like Barcelona you think ‘where’s this going to go?’. But to be fair it was a great example of the endeavour we’ve shown to get back in and the way we did, and to push them so close.
“It was a defeat at the end of the day and we’re knocked out of the cup but there are still an awful lot of positives to be taken from that.
“Hopefully we can repeat that mentality and take it forward. As the manager says it’s not about maintaining it, it’s about taking it forward and improving on it and looking for that progression.”