JUNIOR MENDES is battling to regain his first-team place and goalscoring form, but he's far from downhearted.
The 28-year-old was the talk of the Town in October, netting six goals in six matches before jetting off to represent Montserrat - where his father Hil was born - in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
He earned two caps and took the armband for his country - the captaincy could become permanent in 2005 - but it cost him dearly back at the McAlpine.
After unproductive starts against Brentford in the League and Stockport in the FA Cup, Mendes has been dropped to the bench ever since.
It's not the scenario he planned, but the former Mansfield marksman is confident his time will come again and he can help Town challenge in the play-off placings.
"It's a fine line between scoring and having a good game and not scoring and having a half decent game," said the genial Londoner, who was desperately unlucky not to score in the 2-1 defeat at Oldham.
"I know my job is to play well with a priority on scoring goals and, if I can't do that, to work hard for the team and set up as many goals as I can for other people.
"I'm not downhearted myself because I am getting chances to score. If I wasn't getting those chances then that would be a time to worry.
"Even in the Stockport game I had one cleared off the line and, last Saturday, the keeper made a couple of great saves, so the chances keep coming.
"I'll just keep plugging away and eventually the chances will start going in again.
"That's all I'm focusing on at the moment."
Mendes grabbed his last Town goal in the 3-1 home win against MK Dons.
In the eight matches since then, Town have won just once - an illustration of the tonic Peter Jackson's side would get from some more Mendes goals.
"I will always fight to get a first-team place and to keep hold of a shirt, and I'm battling to get back in the team right now," he said.
"The thing is, to get back in the team I'd ideally have to be scoring goals and they haven't come for me.
"I've just had to work hard and do my best for the team when I've had the chance.
"I'm working hard in training, as are all the lads, and I'll look to take my best form into all the games which are coming up."
Mendes accepts he'll have to hit another purple patch to put Pawel Abbott (15 goals) under pressure for the top scorer award.
"Everything Pav touches at the moment is turning to gold," smiled Mendes. "He works very hard at all aspects of his game, though, and it's paying off for him."
Mendes will follow that fine example and he wouldn't trade the Montserrat experience for anything.
"I was very proud to represent my father's country and I really enjoyed it," he said.
"It felt like home in any case because our National Anthem is `God Save the Queen' and I can now say I've played a couple of internationals, which is great.
"I played against St Kitts and Nevis and against Antigua and I managed to score a goal, which was wonderful. I also took the captain's armband in both games when Ruel Fox went off injured, which was nice, and they are talking about making me captain permanently, which would be superb."
For the moment, Mendes is concentrating on the Christmas games and reflecting with some bitterness on Town's lack of good fortune at Oldham.
"We need to get a couple of wins on the trot to get us pushing back up the table and I thought we deserved to take at least something from the Oldham game," he said.
"I couldn't believe some of the saves which their keeper made and it makes you wonder, is it better to be lucky or better to be good?
"Last week Oldham had a lot of luck - especially when you consider we had a blatant penalty not given for handball.
"It was nice to feel there was a bit of spark when myself and Danny Schofield went on, but that's what you've got to aim to produce as substitutes.
"We were unlucky not to get that vital goal because I thought we deserved a 2-2 at least, but it won't knock our confidence.
"We'll just keep on going and our luck will turn."