Earnshaw remains upbeat despite season in shadows

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The Independent Football

The Derby striker Robert Earnshaw insists he is now three times the player he was at the start of the season, despite having spent most of the past seven months on the bench.

Earnshaw joined Derby last summer for a club record £3.5m from Norwich City where he had scored 27 goals in 47 appearances, and there is speculation he could rejoin the club on loan before next Thursday's Championship loan deadline.

Despite his goalscoring record Earnshaw has failed to nail down a place in Derby's starting line-up in a season in which they have remained anchored to the bottom of the Premier League table, either under former manager Billy Davies or his replacement Paul Jewell.

The Wales international, yesterday omitted from the Wales squad for the first time in six years, has made only six starts all season, with his 14 other appearances as a substitute.

Yet a confident Earnshaw, who has scored just one goal for Derby this season, said: "I believe I'm twice, three times a better player than I was at the start of the season because I've learned so much.

"When you play against one of the best teams in Manchester United as we did on Saturday [losing 1-0] and you push them to the limit, that's a measure of where you are.

"I've been very pleased with my performances in all the games in which I've started, and I'm very glad I've not let myself down.

"But I've learned a hell of a lot, and in games such as the one against United and against Manchester City a couple of weeks ago, I've showed what I'm about.

"So I've not been disappointed with myself, and I've not left the pitch thinking, 'Maybe I could have done better'. I've done myself justice.

"I now need to try and play the rest of the season, to keep going and performing like I did against United and [Manchester] City. That's all I can do."

It remains to be seen whether Earnshaw will figure in Jewell's plans for next season, although he has undoubtedly proven himself at Championship level in the past.

The 26-year-old added: "No one really knows what the manager is going to do. It is really up to him. We'll just play our football and wait and see what happens in the summer. But if the players here now impress as they did against United then there's every chance we will be here."

But then when asked whether he would be happy to stay at Pride Park, Earnshaw was more equivocal. "We'll have a look at it, but things have to be right for me and the club," added Earnshaw. "I just have to keep playing like I did against United and see what happens."