Michael Keane is vowing to “kick on” and “become a much better player with Everton” when he returns from his current injury lay-off.
Centre-back Keane looked to be cementing his berth in Sam Allardyce's team when he played four matches on the spin around the turn of the year – having grasped his opportunity to impress when he was restored to the Toffees’ backline for last month’s clash with Chelsea.
The 24-year-old was stopped in his tracks, though, when he suffered his second foot injury of the campaign in the New Year’s Day meeting with Manchester United.
Despite the fractured nature of his season, Keane has started 15 of the Blues’ 23 Premier League matches and appeared in a further eight cup games.
But after being a near ever-present for former club Burnley in the past two seasons, he is desperate to get back in the rhythm of playing regular football.
“I still have a lot of learning to do,” Keane told evertonfc.com. “I feel like I will become a much better player here. I am being hampered at the minute with the injuries I have had and a few things going on.
“I came back in the team and had a few good games, particularly when we kept the clean sheets against Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion [0-0 draws on 23 and 26 December].
“But I know for a fact I will become a better player and I just need that consistency of playing week in, week out, again. And to perform to the best of my ability week in, week out."
Keane swapped Burnley for Everton in the summer, with the Blues paying a then Club-record fee, which could potentially hit £30million, to bring the England international to Merseyside from Turf Moor.
He started his debut Goodison Park season in commanding form, helping the Toffees through the Europa League qualifying stages and contributing to his side recording a clean sheet in August's Premier League opening-day victory over Stoke City.
Keane was knocked back, however, by the badly-cut foot he sustained in the following month’s Carabao Cup encounter with Sunderland – a problem exacerbated when he suffered an infection in the wound and spent a short time in hospital.
“My first few months here were really positive, we began solidly in the Europa League and had a few good results in the Premier League,” said Keane.
“I was playing well but then the team lost a little bit of form and, as a squad, we went through a really tough few months, which I was part of. I probably lost a bit of confidence – like a few of the lads.
“I have had a few injuries as well, which I have not been used to. That has thrown me a bit, because in the past few years I have normally played every game.
“I ended up in hospital and on a load of tablets, which left me feeling not as sharp and well in myself as I usually do.
“That had an effect, but, also, not getting the results and not performing as well as you want to on the pitch brings down your confidence.”
Keane had to wait for his chance to feature following Allardyce’s appointment in late November, after a knock the player picked up against Southampton sidelined him for Everton's 4-0 thumping of West Ham United on the eve of the manager’s official unveiling.
Allardyce understandably stuck with the same defensive unit as he claimed 10 points from his first four matches at the helm, before recalling both Keane and captain Phil Jagileka for the visit of Chelsea.
And former Manchester United player Keane – who reopened his previous cut against his old team and needed stitches to repair the gash – is bracing himself for a scrap to get in the Toffees' starting XI when he is up and running once more.
“When the new manager came in he really lifted the place, he brought a buzz back, and we got some great results,” said Keane.
“He drills the basics into you, which is very important.
“I worked through that tough period but then picked up another injury against Manchester United, which was frustrating for me
“We have to perform well in training every day and work really hard to prove to the manager we deserve to play.
“But, hopefully, once I am back from this injury I can stay fit and really kick on.”