DAVID Moyes has urged his Everton side to recapture the resurgent spirit of a year ago as they bid to remain in the mix for a top four finish.
Twelve months ago a successful January transfer window, which concluded dramatically with the return of Steven Pienaar, helped the Toffees transform a poor first half of the campaign into a successful second one, and the Scot hopes his men can channel that same energy.
Although this time around the window shut without a raft of new arrivals to galvanise a small first-team squad, Moyes still has every faith in the players who have propelled the club to within a point of fourth-place in the table.
“If we can try and copy what we’ve done over the last few years in the second part of the season we’ll not be too far away I don’t think. It’s easier said than done,” he says.
“We might still finish where people would have expected us to finish.
“Maybe to be a real top team you need that consistency throughout, but the one thing you’d say is that we are showing consistency.
“We’ve not faltered that much and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Moyes is fully aware that for his side’s season to flourish again it would be helpful if Nikica Jelavic in particular could rediscover the prolific form which quickly made him a fan’s favourite after his arrival on Merseyside 12 months ago.
But Moyes was pleased with the Croatian’s reaction to being taken out of the team for Wednesday night’s victory over West Brom.
“He’s been good,” he says. “I think he understood and respected the decision. The job is to get him back into form because when he arrived this time last year he probably helped make the difference, probably with Steven Pienaar and Darron Gibson.
“If we could get Jelavic back to the level he was this time last year it’d be excellent.”
Everton are currently fifth, a point adrift of Tottenham, and have lost only three league games all season.
The scenario is quite different for Villa, who dropped into the bottom three with a home defeat to Newcastle this week.
It has been a testing period for manager Paul Lambert, but Moyes believes if his fellow Scot can keep Villa up, the future for the club could be bright.
“I think it has been a difficult job for Paul because he is having to change things around and has probably tried to alter the amount they are spending on wages as well,” Moyes said.
“He has brought in a few younger players and it is going to take time. But if he pulls through with the younger boys, he might have a good team going on into the future, and I’m sure that is the way he is looking at it.
“He has to try to make sure he gets through this period and if Aston Villa survive, I’m sure they will get better.”
For now though, Moyes will hope to compound Lambert’s misery and he could be helped by the return of midfielder Darron Gibson today.
The Republic of Ireland international was back in action as a substitute in the 2-1 win over the Baggies after a thigh problem, which had kept him out since the end of December.
It also remains to be seen whether or not Jelavic will be restored to the first XI, while it is not expected that new boy John Stones will be involved and Seamus Coleman (thigh) and Tony Hibbert (calf) remain sidelined.
Asked about Stones, Moyes added: “He is a young English player and we are always keen to add as many of those as we possibly can.
“He has been playing at right-back and playing quite regularly for Barnsley.
“I know there are a lot of people saying he will turn into a good centre-half in the future as well, so we will look at that, and we will try to develop him the way we have done with quite a few other young players we have brought in from the lower leagues over the years.
“But he is not really for just now, he is for the future.”
Transfer deadline day also saw the departure of Magaye Gueye, who joined Brest on loan until the end of the season.
The midfielder will have the opportunity to play regular first-team football with the French club, who are currently placed 14th in Ligue 1.
Moyes added: “He was involved a lot here and was around the bench, but he was really keen to go back to France at this present time.
“The opportunity came up at the last minute and we gave him that chance to do so.”