THE prospect of being just 90 minutes away from a return to Wembley has put a spring in the step of every Evertonian this week.
But the remainder of the season will be shaped by matters much closer to home during a pivotal March.
Tuesday’s ultimately comfortable victory over Oldham Athletic has made the FA Cup fifth round replay the first of five consecutive home games for David Moyes’s side.
With Everton retaining hope of Champions League qualification as well as seeking to reach a second successive Cup semi-final, the opportunity of gaining Goodison momentum cannot be passed up.
Not least with Moyes’s men facing a daunting final seven weeks during which they must travel to White Hart Lane, the Emirates, Anfield and Stamford Bridge.
“We have some tricky away fixtures between now and the end of the season, so it will be important that we take full advantage of this run of home fixtures,” says goalkeeper Tim Howard.
“It is going to be tough to go to Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, where we all have to go before the end of the season, so we need to pick up a bunch of points from these home games.
“We are still in the thick of it near the top of the table and we want to still be in the thick of it by the end of this run.”
Despite a disappointing defeat at Norwich City last weekend, Everton stand only five points adrift of fifth-placed Arsenal and guaranteed European qualification, and a further two points behind Chelsea in the fourth and final Champions League berth.
Their league form, however, has been indifferent with Moyes’s men having won only one of six top-flight games since ending the festive period with a 2-1 win at Newcastle United on January 2.
But Howard believes that Everton are in a position to kick on again.
“I don’t think we are firing on all cylinders,” says the goalkeeper. “And at the moment, I think that’s a good thing. We have advanced in the cup and have a home draw, and you look at the league table and we’re still in the thick of it.
“We have to start doing the business, but we are still in there. We seem to be higher up the league at this stage of the season than we have been in a while.
“I’d sooner not be firing on all cylinders at this point and be where we are, than be further down the league.”
There were conflicting messages from Goodison this week regarding the tiredness of players, with Moyes suggesting the strain was beginning to show and Steven Naismith claiming fatigue hasn’t been an issue within the squad.