With Burnley flying high in the Championship after their 3-1 win over Fulham on Tuesday night, Jordan Eyre takes a look at the new man behind the promotion tilt…

Burnley have a new hero. Emblazoned on the back of youngsters’ shirts is the name of a young, English striker with a four letter surname. It feels like we’ve been here before.

Andre Gray continues to astound and score in equal measure. Tuesday’s brace against Fulham was his third consecutive double, taking his league tally to 10 already this season as the Claret bandwagon gathers real momentum.

While manager Sean Dyche will be quick to praise the entirety of the team for its recent run of form – nine wins from the last 12 matches – it is Gray, the goalscorer extraordinaire, who naturally makes the headlines. Just like Danny Ings in the 2013/14 season.

The two are different players, different people, but the similarities are strikingly similar. Gray and Ings attended the school of hard knocks, cutting their teeth at a non-league level before taking a step up to the Football League in their stride.

Gray’s 10 league goals after 15 games also gives him a similar record to that of Ings two years ago, who notched nine in those opening fixtures. The latter went on to score 20 league goals in that promotion campaign, and few would bet against his successor achieving the same feat.

But with Gray, there is a more fearsome excitement. While Ings was the bubbly, unassuming presence on both the pitch and through social media, Gray is the silent assassin. He is much more quiet, more reserved, and it’s this that makes him more enigmatically brilliant.

He locates fear and pounces on it. Defenders don’t enjoy playing against him, that much is true. Gray’s pace, athleticism and strength make him a bruising striker who can bulldoze a path to goal, and any laxness in possession will be suitably seized upon – just ask Sheffield Wednesday’s Liam Palmer.

He has been likened to Ian Wright, himself a former Claret, and that comparison has weight behind it. Wright was a clinical predator, converting most of the chances you would expect him to and pinching some of the ones you wouldn’t. Gray is in that ruthless mindset.

Misses don’t seem to faze him. For instance, some players can wilt after missing a clear chance, or a penalty. They can go into hiding. But not Gray. Burnley’s No. 7 sticks his chest out, keeps his head up, and persists. He knows chances will come his way again, and he knows he will score.

Watching an in-form Gray is a spectacle to saviour. He is able to drop deep and collect the ball, spin with it and go direct. He is able to protect the ball, before feeding others and peeling off his marker into the area. He is able to go long, with that bristling pace and fearlessness.

But it is Gray’s shooting, indeed the bread and butter of any striker, that is his main asset. Those early snapshots that whistle into the net, scarcely giving opposition goalkeepers a chance to register the location of the ball, let alone set themselves for the shot.

It would be remiss not mention the significance of Sam Vokes in the eulogising of Gray and Ings, however. The Welshman is the perfect foil for the pair, the large to their little. Vokes’ vision seems to have improved drastically in the past two years, something which has helped forge a telepathic understanding between him and his strike partner.

As with all good things emanating from the club in recent years, Dyche deserves a huge amount of credit. Joey Barton praised the boss for his silver tongue, selling the club to a midfielder who still has Premier League life left in him. That Dyche was able to convince Gray to follow suit, in spite of stern competition from division rivals, speaks volumes.

The striker has openly spoke about his desire to keep improving and developing. Gray has noted the rise of the likes of Jay Rodriguez, Charlie Austin and Ings, all fine predecessors in Burnley’s lineage of strikers, and their respective appearances for the England national team. Whether the former Brentford man is to join that vintage remains to be seen, but there is real scope for progression.

And so, to the weekend. The Clarets head to Wolverhampton Wanderers, spearheaded by Gray who revisits his birthplace. But the Old Gold can expect little remorse from their former academy starlet, who was released at just 13. In a week of two goal feats, brace yourselves for more.

By Jordan Eyre

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