LEE Barnard fired Southend United to a 1-0 win at Accrington Stanley on Saturday and then declared himself back to his best.
The striker came off the bench to convert a late penalty at the Crown Ground on his 100th appearance for the club.
And, after enduring an indifferent end to last season, Barnard was delighted to kick off the new League Two season with a winning goal.
“Last season I was well off it if I’m being honest,” said the 30-year-old.
“It was a frustrating time for me physically and mentally and I just didn’t feel at all right.
“I still tried my hardest and did my best but it didn’t really happen for me.
“I worked hard in the summer though, I’ve had a good pre-season and this was the perfect way to start.”
Former Mayflower School pupil Barnard enjoyed an incredibly successful first spell with the Shrimpers, scoring 37 goals in 69 starts before being snapped up by Southampton in January 2010.
But he struggled on his return to Roots Hall last season, scoring just once in 14 games.
And the 30-year-old was almost not able to get back on to the score-sheet as Myles Weston initially grabbed the ball and also wanted to take the spot-kick.
“Westy has come in and looked really good for us which is great and he’s desperate for goals so also wanted to take the penalty,” said Barnard.
“He saw it as an opportunity to get one and rightly so but I think the gaffer shouted on for me to take it.
“Thankfully I was able to score because I think Westy would’ve had a few words if I didn’t but I’m always really confident with my penalties.”
Barnard’s spot-kick was the Shrimpers’ second of the day after Barry Corr had seen an earlier effort saved by Accrington goalkeeper Luke Simpson.
Barnard also won the second penalty after being brought down by Stanley defender Dean Winnard.
And the striker felt it was the correct decision.
“The ball was flicked on by Cian (Bolger) and the defender has definitely caught me,” said Barnard.
“Luckily enough the ref was in a good position because sometimes you don’t get them.
“It was a big decision for him, with us being the away team and having already had one penalty.
“But it was the right decision and I was delighted to score to get the win for the lads and the three points.
“And learning it was my 100th game was the cherry on top.”
Barnard will now be pushing for a place in the starting line-up and manager Phil Brown has been impressed by how the striker has bounced back from struggling last season.
“Barney’s staking a claim and putting a marker down to be picked now,” said Brown.
“He came back last season with high expectation levels.
“But it didn’t quite happen for him because he had missed three or four months of football before coming in.
“However, he’s looking fitter and leaner now.
“He’s hungry and I loved the argument about who should take that penalty.”