DAVID MOYES admits Everton FC are in the midst of a run of games that could shape expectations for the remainder of the season.
The Goodison outfit began a spell of facing three of the leading Premier League sides inside 12 days with the visit of Arsenal on Wednesday night.
Everton travel to champions Manchester City on Saturday before entertaining Tottenham Hotspur a week on Sunday, with a tricky trip to Stoke City the following weekend ahead of the hectic festive schedule of four games in less than a fortnight.
Moyes, though, has acknowledged the importance of the opening triumvirate of that programme with Everton looking to reaffirm their claims for a top-four finish.
“We are in a run of tough games which I have been looking forward to,” said the Goodison manager. “I will have a better idea and an indication of where we are at the end of them.
“Nevertheless I am delighted overall with the way the players have performed and a determination has always been there for everybody to see.
“I hope they will continue to play well and that one or two things will go for us.”
Having made such a strong start to the campaign, Everton have lost their way somewhat lately, dropping out of the Champions League qualification berths and hampered by an inability to kill off games in which they have dominated.
But defender Phil Jagielka warned: “We’ve got a tough run of fixtures and we can’t afford to feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to keep working hard and hope that we can start to take the chances again.
“There’s a bit of frustration around the place, but I always like to accentuate the positives. We’re high up in the Premier League, we’re playing some really good football, and we’d have taken that at the start of the season.”
With Phil Neville, Victor Anichebe and Kevin Mirallas having joined Darron Gibson on the sidelines in recent weeks, Everton’s squad has been stretched significantly.
Moyes, though, believes it has given an opportunity for some of the fringe players to prosper.
“Like most clubs we are finding that we have one or two injuries but I feel the players who have come in, such as on Saturday against Norwich, did well,” added the Scot.
“I’d like to make a special mention of Bryan Oviedo. We want to give him time to settle and I thought he helped and made a good contribution on his first start in the Premier League.”
Meanwhile, former Goodison favourite Anders Limpar has hailed the impact of Everton’s flair players this season – but believes much depends on the form of one player in particular.
“I think Marouane Fellaini is the difference between a good Everton and a not-so-good Everton,” said Limpar.
“Supporters at Everton love flair players, that’s a part of Everton’s history. Kevin Mirallas is one of them and Steven Pienaar, one of my personal favourites, is always good to look at.”
Limpar, who made his name as a tricky winger, has also highlighted the importance of Leighton Baines in bringing the best out of the likes of Mirallas and Pienaar.
“The experience of Leighton Baines is vital,” added the Swede. “I played in front of Gary Ablett and Andy Hinchcliffe and I played in front of Nigel Winterburn at Arsenal, and they all made me look good.
“That’s the honest truth. If you have a good full-back behind you, that’s the whole thing for a winger.”