TOWN fans will be hoping Jon Stead's return to goalscoring form with Blackburn re-ignites his career at Ewood Park.

Not only does the 21-year-old remain highly popular this side of the Pennines, but Town receive further payments from his £1.3m transfer depending on appearances for the Lancashire club.

Stead hopes he has now put behind him 10 barren months in which he had to battle to retain confidence that he could make a Premier League career.

The Holmfirth-based star bagged six goals in 13 games for Blackburn last season after his move from Town - the third highest in stadium history after Andy Booth and Marcus Stewart - virtually saving his new club from relegation on his own.

But since then - until his winning goal in Sunday's 1-0 Barclays Premiership success at Everton - he admits his Ewood career had turned into a "nightmare," as he was banished from new manager Mark Hughes' squad.

"People maybe thought I was a flash in the pan after last season when I arrived and scored all those goals - but I have kept believing in my own ability," said Stead, who has now made a total of 36 senior appearances for Blackburn (Town receive another £125,000 at 50).

"The Premier League is a massive step from where I was two years ago, and I want to stay here. I have to keep going for it, to prove I can play at this level.

"Now I have a fresh lease of life and want to be involved. I do not want to let anyone take the shirt from me now."

It has been far from easy, though, to keep that self-belief at times.

"I have tried not to let things get to me," said Stead, who netted 18 goals in 31 starts for Town last season.

"There are a lot of people in the world worse off than me. I have a good career, and it is something I won't throw away - because I love it.

"I had so much confidence coming into this season. But it just hasn't gone for me, and now I must really grab this opportunity."

Stead's appearance as a first-half substitute at Goodison Park resulted in his first goal since he hit the winner against Manchester United on May 1 last season.

Blackburn's victory against the top flight's fourth-placed side has given them fresh confidence they will be in the Premiership next season.

The England Under 21s striker is hoping it marks a turning point for him personally too.

"It has been terrible. Nobody wants to go through a period when they are not scoring - but my time has gone on longer than most," he said.

"It's been very difficult. I have not been in the side - just turning up on match days and sitting in the stands. But you have got to keep working hard.

"It took an injury to someone else to even get me on the bench at Everton - that shows how far I have fallen behind."

Even so, Stead was always able to count on the support of his employers.

"The coaches and manager have been good; they have kept trying to give me confidence," he said.

"I have felt at times that I should have been playing and I wanted to prove things to them.

"But you have to accept their attitude - they cannot put in a striker who is not in form. That's the way football is, but I hope I have shown them now what I can do - and I was delighted with my form and the three points."

Things had got so bad Stead had even been considering a loan move to get his goalscoring form back, and his family did not travel to Merseyside for a match they feared once again would not feature his talents.

"There was the possibility of a loan somewhere, just so that I could get some football in," he said.

"It is no fun just watching, and that is not something any player wants. But the manager wanted me to stay. He sees me as part of his plans and he wouldn't let me go out on loan. That showed I was wanted - and that must give you confidence."

The belief was still there when Hughes needed someone to win the Goodison game.

"In the end the gaffer stuck me into the game when Paul Dickov was injured. He could have decided on someone else but he took the gamble - and I have repaid the confidence," said Stead.

"The goal means so much. My family were at home watching on TV, because they didn't want to make the trip if I was going to be sitting in the stand watching again. It was even a shock to me that I was on the bench."

Stead is delighted with the eventual outcome - and makes no secret of how important the result was to Blackburn.

"It was vital we got something from the match, with Southampton winning the day before," he said. "But what we have shown is that we are more than capable of staying in the Premiership - and we should not be in the position we are in."

There is much work still to be done, though.

Stead noted: "We have a tough run of games coming up next, the FA Cup quarter-final and then Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United - so beating the fourth-placed team will give us plenty of confidence for those tough games ahead.

"We worked so hard against Everton, a team who are renowned for doing just that themselves. But we showed them that other teams can do that - and when it is put back into your face like we did it is difficult to deal with."