JAY Rodriguez is one goal away from becoming the first Burnley striker in 12 years to hit the magical 20 mark.
And while assistant boss Jason Tindall is realistic enough to accept there will be a fight to keep the 22-year-old at Turf Moor in the summer, he is desperate for the England Under-21 cap to stay and lead the club forward.
Burnley travel to face Watford tomorrow looking for a boost in their bid to make the play-offs, with Rodriguez poised on 19 goals in all competitions.
The Carling Cup’s top scorer with five goals, one more would see him emulate another local hero, Andy Payton, who was the last Clarets striker to reach 20, in the Second Division promotion campaign in 1999/2000.
To achieve the feat in the top two divisions, however, you have to go back as far as 1968/69, when Frank Casper netted 21, and Tindall knows they have a talent destined for the Premier League – and he only hopes that will be with Burnley.
He said: “The better he performs, the more goals he scores, he’s going to attract attention.
“He’s young and he’s a terrific player, and hopefully we can keep him here as long as possible because he’s the future of the football club.
“No manager wants to lose their best players, and he’s one of the best.
“The goals he scores are very important to us, so we don’t want to lose that.
“Any player who scores the amount of goals he has in the Championship is going to create interest, even more so when they’re young and have the attributes Jay has.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if there was interest, because we know the quality of player he is, but we want him to stay here, and hopefully that can happen, and happen by achieving success here.”
Burnley warded off sizeable offers from Southampton in the summer, while Newcastle expressed an interest in January.
Tindall added: “As a player, you want to play at the highest level you can, albeit with the right club to progress your career to that next level, so we’re hoping he’s with us for as long as possible, but we’re realistic to know there is going to be interest in good players, and if there is, decisions have to be made.
“But he’s fully focused on playing for this club and performing as he has been.
“He’s a Burnley lad through and through, everyone at the club loves him, so for him to shoot the club to success would be special for him and everyone else.”
With 13 games remaining, although six points outside the top six, a play-off push is still possible, and Tindall feels an in-form Rodriguez can set the bar far higher than 20 goals for the season.
He said: “I don’t think you can guarantee too many things in life, but you’d be a brave man to say Jay won’t achieve that 20-goal target.
“He’s had a fantastic year, he’s come on leaps and bounds as a player, everybody knows what a good player he is, he’s been terrific for us, and hopefully he can continue his great form.
“I’m sure Jay won’t be looking at 20 goals, he’ll be looking at 25/30, and he’s capable of doing that.
“We work with him every single day, and we know what he’s capable of doing, he’s a terrific lad, he works extremely hard and that’s paying off – he’s getting all the rewards he deserves, and hopefully he can continue getting better as a player.
“He’s got a great future.”
Meanwhile, Dean Marney will be available at Vicarage Road, although skipper Chris McCann is touch and go.
Tindall said: “Dean’s trained all week, his wife gave birth to a little boy, which was great news, from a selfish point of view the timing was unfortunate for us, but it’s great for him, everything’s okay and he’s back with us, although his eyes are a little bit red for some reason.
“Chris has made great progress, and he’s been on the training field for a bit of time and will be assessed again.
“Hopefully he will join in with us today (Thursday), which would be great news, but, otherwise, we’ll hopefully have him back with us tomorrow (Friday) or early next week.”
Junior Stanislas is also closing on a return.
Tindall said: “Junior’s not far away, he’s been training with us for the last week with Jon Dalzell, so he’s made great strides and should be with us very soon.”