It has been quite a few weeks for Derby County’s Alex Pearce.
The 29-year-old central defender has had to patiently wait in the wings for the majority of this season for his chance to shine.
The form of skipper Richard Keogh and Curtis Davies at the heart of the defence meant, up until last week, he hadn’t started a Sky Bet Championship fixture all season.
That all changed last Monday when he was handed a place in the starting line-up for the Rams’ Easter Monday clash at Preston North End by manager Gary Rowett.
Determined to grasp his opportunity to shine with both hands, Pearce produced a typically solid performance as Derby claimed a much-needed 1-0 victory at Deepdale.
Pearce retained his place in the side for Saturday’s 3-0 home win over Bolton Wanderers and opened the scoring with an early header to set the Rams on their way to back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018.
The goal produced Pearce’s trademark ‘high knees’ celebration - but he had more than just a goal to celebrate at Pride Park Stadium.
The Republic of Ireland international last month celebrated the birth of his first child.
Just a few weeks old, his daughter Amilia attended her first game at the weekend on what was a special day for the Pearce family.
Speaking to RamsTV, Pearce said: “It was obviously a special moment for the family on Saturday as my daughter came to see me play for the first time.
“It was nice to have her there and also for us to get three points as well.
“I didn’t have a goal celebration or anything planned and I ended up doing what comes naturally, which is the high-knees! I’ve done that on previous occasions and I think people enjoy it.”
Pearce showed plenty of desire and determination to get on the end of Joe Ledley’s corner after just six minutes.
He held off his marker to plant a firm header into the bottom corner to send the Rams on their way to victory.
The centre-back says the onus is on the players in the box to get on the end of what he believes are quality deliveries.
He said: “I was really pleased with the goal. It was a great ball into the box from Joe Ledley.
“We have great delivery here from both sides. We saw that on Saturday with Joe and Chris Baird putting some great balls into the box.
“It’s up to us as players to get on the end of them. With the players we have there’s certainly the ability to score goals from set plays.”
Pearce will be hoping to make his third successive start when Derby head to Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday evening (7:45pm kick-off).
The former Reading defender had been limited to starts in the EFL Cup and Emirates FA Cup this season as well as a single league outing off the bench back in November, prior to the Preston clash.
Pearce says he committed to doing extra working both before and after training to ensure he was in the best possible position to impress when called upon.
He said: “As a professional you do your extra bits before and after training to keep yourself ticking over.
“When you’re not playing games, it can be difficult to maintain the type of fitness that comes with regularly.
“It’s vitally important as a player to have the right fitness levels so when the chance comes you are physically ready to give the best account of yourself.”
He added: “The manager just told me to go into the side and show what I can do. I know it is down to me to do well. I’ve had to bide my time over the course of this season.
“Richard Keogh and Curtis Davies have been in front of me and have done really well too. They’ve got us into a fantastic position in the league but, as I said last week, I was happy to come into the side at Preston.
“When you are asked to play by the manager you want to do the best you can, put in a good performance and be solid.”
Derby will make the trip to Molineux on Wednesday in buoyant mood.
They remain in the thick of the promotion race following back-to-back wins against Preston and Bolton with only six games left to play.
The Rams occupy fifth place in the table and Pearce insists the squad are looking forward to the challenge of taking on the division’s stand-out side.
He said: “I have been very impressed with Wolves this season. They have a way of playing that’s very difficult to play against and it will be a tough game.
“We will go to Molineux looking forward to it and in high spirits. Our last two results should take us into the game with some real confidence to go and feel like we can get a result there.
“The win at Preston was vital for us and the missed penalty, you could say, was the moment our luck changed. We managed to grind out an ugly win by almost going back to basics.
“We carried on that momentum against Bolton at the weekend. We deserved the three points and now we head to Wolves looking for the same again.”