NOT for the first time, the usual retrospection brought by the arrival of the festive period prompted feelings of frustration and disappointment for Evertonians.
But that they were solicited by the nagging suspicion a fine start could have been improved, rather than typical concerns over the future direction of the club, speaks volumes.
Perceptions, along with expectations, have shifted for David Moyes and his players during the last few months.
Now, instead of looking nervously over their shoulders while anticipating the perennial second-half charge to the finishing line, Everton are looking up with a top-four finish and a cherished Champions League qualification berth firmly in their sights.
Yet, as is often the way with the Goodison outfit, it could – and should – be much better.
That’s not to belittle the achievements of Moyes’s men. Only champions Manchester City have lost fewer games this season, with City among a group of leading teams against which Everton remain unbeaten.
From the very first game, in which Manchester United were thrillingly beaten at Goodison on an electric August evening, the pattern was set: Everton both enterprising and obdurate; Goodison intimidating; Marouane Fellaini proving the matchwinner.
Fellaini has been stellar performer this season, primarily in the attacking role in which he has previously revelled.
The Belgian’s regular supply of goals – particularly in big games against United, City and Arsenal –has helped ease the burden on the misfiring Nikica Jelavic.
However, controversy continues to dog Fellaini. He was fined for suggesting this may be his last season at the club back in September, and his shocking headbutt on Ryan Shawcross earlier this month at Stoke City suggests Fellaini remains prone to rushes of blood to his outrageously-coiffured head.
Another heat-of-the-moment reaction led to a spiky debate in the wake of October’s Goodison derby.
While Everton’s fightback from two goals down to earn a point against Liverpool highlighted the steely character and spirit remains the heartbeat of this Moyes vintage, they subsequently found themselves compared unfavourably to Stoke City by Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard.
It could be argued Gerrard did Everton an unintentional favour. After all, the general consensus was the Goodison side are playing some of the most eye-catching and effective football in the Premier League this season.
Their Achilles heel, however, has been obvious.
If Everton have proven hard to beat, then they have had a similar problem in finishing off games they should have won, not helped by a defence that, in the most uncharacteristic manner for a Moyes team, kept just two clean sheets in their opening 18 league games.