Carlton Cole has pledged to continue in a "professional manner" after coming off the bench to great impact at the weekend with the winner against Derby County.

With 25 league and cup starts and a further nine appearances off the bench, the hard-working 24-year-old striker has played more games this season than in any other campaign since breaking through with first club Chelsea in 2001/02. It took Cole just three minutes to score the decisive goal on Saturday after arriving in the 73rd minute for Freddie Sears. His close-range finish was just reward for his extra training sessions working on his forward play.

Rather than dwell on his latest positive, Cole knows he has to keep going in the final three games - not least because there is plenty of competition for places looking ahead to next season with Sears, Dean Ashton, Craig Bellamy and Bobby Zamora all in Alan Curbishley's forward thinking. "It is how football is," said Cole about the challenge of proving his worth. "It is an unpredictable game. You have just got to carry on and do things in a professional manner."

The former England Under-21 striker, who has played mostly as a lone striker this campaign, said the situation was the same for all players at all clubs at this stage of the season as squads are assessed for the future. "We have got to fight all the time. We have had a lot of injuries this season and a few players that have not really played a big part in the season. They are going to want to get in the team next season and try and push for places. There is going to be lots of competition."

For all the individual aims, the main concern has to be the team and Cole said there was a feeling of what could have been had selection issues been more straightforward. He said: "We are disappointed we didn't push up higher in the table when we had to after the Christmas period. We had it really hard with injuries and people playing out of position so the manager used his resources well. It was just frustrating that we couldn't get the few results that we should have had at home and a few away results as well that went against us. They could have pushed us higher up the league."

Speaking about his match-winner, Curbishley said: "Coley has had a decent season. We have told him that. He has played up there a lot on his own and I have got a lot of time for Carlton Cole. As everyone knows I had him on loan at Charlton for a season. I think he has had a terrific season. He has a lot to be pleased with. You are hoping that when there is a lot of competition they come on and want to do something. When I get that competition [throughout the team] we have got a decent squad."