Burnley FC stalwart Alexander set to make 1,000 appearances tonight

Graham Alexander celebrates scoring a trademark penalty
Graham Alexander celebrates scoring a trademark penalty

CLARETS stalwart Graham Alexander could join an elite club at Nottingham Forest tonight.

The 39-year-old came on for his 999th senior career appearance in the 4-0 defeat at Leicester City on Saturday.

And should he get on at the City Ground, he will join Tony Ford as the only outfield member of the 1,000 club – whose other members, Pat Jennings, Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence, were, of course, goalkeepers.

Boss Eddie Howe paid tribute to the club captain after his latest appearance at the Walkers Stadium took him to the brink of history: “Of course, I’ve been conscious of it.

“It’s a fantastic achievement for Graham. He’s a fantastic professional.

“He has been, and still is, a fantastic player, and I think he deserves to make this.

“He’s had an extremely good career, not just for Burnley, but for other clubs as well.

“He leads by example in training, in everything he does and how he prepares, so it will be a tremendous achievement when he makes it.”

Alexander could be in line for a first start under Howe, having had to settle for a place on the bench since the new manager’s arrival in mid-January.

His last start came in caretaker boss Stuart Gray’s last game at the helm – a goalless draw with leaders QPR.

The Preston legend has made only 15 starts in the league this season, used sparingly by Brian Laws before Howe’s arrival, but his leadership and organisational qualities have been sorely missed of late, in a run of four defeats in five games, which has severely knocked any play-off ambitions Burnley had.

Meanwhile, Jack Cork yesterday reported back at training after completing tests after suffering from palpitations a fortnight ago at half-time in England Under 21s’ 2-1 defeat to Iceland at Preston.

Howe said on Thursday: “We don’t envisage any problems.

“He’s a fantastic pro, a good lad and a good player, and we missed him, but the most vital thing is getting him fit and healthy and back on the pitch as soon as possible.

“The stresses and strains the heart goes through in any sport are huge, and if you have any problems, you have to have them checked out, but he will be fine.”

Howe also revealed he is keen to keep Chris McCann, who was due to make a third reserve team outing last night at Turf Moor against Macclesfield Town, at the club.

His current contract is set to expire in the summer.

McCann is close to a first team having played only 100 minutes since September 2009 due to knee problems.

But Howe has been impressed by what he has seen in training and for the second string, and there will be an offer on the table for the 23-year-old: “He’s improving all the time and in training you can see that he’s getting better, stronger, fitter.

“We’d love to see him back.

“Contract wise we’d love Chris to stay. He’s been out injured a long time but there will be something there for him.

“We want to look after him and make sure that he can really concentrate on his football and not worry about anything else.

“We have made an effort to keep him, but we’ll wait and see what happens and what Chris wants to do.”

McCann is not the only player out of contract, with Wade Elliott, Kevin McDonald and Steven Thompson - who has an option for another year - all out in the close season.

Howe added: “Of course we’ve got games now for the lads to impress.

“Everyone’s playing for their futures every time they play, whether they’re contracted or not.

“That’s how football works. You’ve got to perform every day in training and in every game.

“Everyone will get an opportunity.

“The team’s rotated a little bit so it’s down now to the lads to stake their claim.”

Thompson returned ahead of schedule from his recent groin operation on Saturday, playing the final quarter of the game at Leicester after replacing Chris Iwelumo, and will be another contender to start at Forest tonight - where he made his Burnley debut back in September 2008.