SAM Vokes, David Jones, Michael Kightly and Jason Shackell – there were no shortage of familiar faces to greet Stephen Ward when he arrived at Gawthorpe for his first training session last Saturday.
In signing a three-year deal with Burnley he became the fifth member of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ 2009 Championship title winning squad to join the reunion at Turf Moor.
The quintet shared the know-how of what it takes to stay in the Premier League, finishing 15th and eight points clear of the relegated Clarets in 18th.
Ward is ready to play his part in passing on the benefits of that experience now, as he relishes a new Premier League challenge.
“That first year we came up similar to Burnley on the back of a really successful season and I thought that really helped us the first year,” said the Republic of Ireland left back.
“We were used to winning games, everyone was confident.
“It was a new thing for a lot of people in the squad and everyone was hungry to prove themselves and prove they belong at that level. Hopefully we’ve got similar attributes like that in this squad and we can use that to our advantage.
“We were similar. The minute we got promoted we were odds on favourites to go down.
“We didn’t sign too many players, it was a similar squad to the one that got us promoted.
“Burnley have a few new faces and sometimes you can use that underdog tag to your advantage.
“We certainly did that first year and hopefully we can do the same.
“The margins are so fine and the number of points needed for safety changes every year.
“They say 40 is the magic number but we got that amount of points and only survived by a whisker the second year. It can be so tight and that’s why every point will count in this league.”
He added: “The game moves on every year. Last year I don’t think many people fancied Burnley, which was a strange one, but they’ve come up after a really successful season, the manager’s done a fantastic job and it’s a very talented group of players.
“To stay up would be a fantastic achievement. You have to give the Premier League a lot of respect, you have to really earn the right to stay in the league and we’ll work as hard as we can to do that, and hopefully build on that if we can achieve our goal.”
Burnley faced a difficult start to life after promotion with the visit of Chelsea.
But in taking a watching brief on Monday night, after his move was processed too late to be involved, Ward saw plenty of positives in the performance - not least Scott Arfield’s stunning opening strike.
“We couldn’t have had a harder start with Chelsea coming in but the way we started the game and taking the lead was a real positive,” he said. “I thought there were some really nice bits in the second half.
“Obviously Chelsea showed their class and why they’re one of the biggest clubs in Europe. It’s going to be tough against teams like that.
“On the whole there’s a lot of positives to take and a lot to look forward to this weekend.”
Ward, who is in line for his debut at Swansea this afternoon, added: “I’ve had fantastic times with Wolves and when things are going well there it’s a fantastic club. When we were in the Premier League it was one of the best times in my career. You can see a similar sort of thing happening with this club and hopefully we can have a successful time.”
But for Ward, who turned 29 this week, there were some dark times in his seven-and-a-half years in the Black Country too, after Wolves suffered back-to-back relegations in 2011/12 and 2012/13 and the club mould was re-shaped for their recovery.
He wasn’t in the bracket of top earners like Jamie O’Hara, Roger Johnson and Kevin Doyle, but he was forced to train separately with them away from the first team squad, paying the price of being an older head when Kenny Jackett wanted new, young players who were not tarnished by any involvement in Wolves’ dramatic fall from grace.
Ward found solace in a season-long loan at Brighton last term, and he was set to return full-time last week until Burnley stepped in.
He is ready to put the Molineux misery behind him now, but believes the experience has made him stronger as he emerges from the Wolves wilderness.
“We were training on our own and that’s not a nice place,” he explained.
“It was obviously tough. They made it quite clear that there was a few of us there that they wanted to move on. It was difficult and we all had to go out on loan to get some game time.
“I really enjoyed it at Brighton and it gave me the stepping stone to get a move like this. I’m grateful to Brighton for giving me that opportunity. I knew my time was up at Wolves.
“These things happen in football these days. I had some fantastic years there, I’ll always be grateful for my time there, but it was disappointing how it ended.
“But it’s great being back in the Premier League.”