PHIL NEVILLE is hoping Everton can find a spring in their step again – now that the gruelling January fixture list is behind them.

Between December 22 and Saturday’s visit of Aston Villa, the Blues contested 10 fixtures in 43 days – having used the fewest number of players in the Premier League this season.

But now, barring Cup replays or Cup rearrangements, they don’t have another midweek fixture for the rest of the season.

The return to weekend-to-weekend fixtures could, the Blues skipper hopes, see a greater intensity to the Blues’ displays once again.

“The second half of the season is always when we kick on,” he explained.

“Against Swansea and Southampton recently, we probably dipped below our previous standards and didn’t play with the same intensity or the same speed in our play, and maybe that’s because we were coming out of the Christmas period. We had West Ham, Wigan, Chelsea and then Newcastle. Put Cheltenham in that and you have five games in a short period of time and the same players played in every game.

“I think if you look at the rest of the Premier League and the other teams who played that number of games, their players probably only played in three of them. We had eight or nine players who played in all five so it’s natural that there was going to be a little bit of a dip.

“But I think there have been points dropped by everybody and tired and jaded performances from every team. It’s something that we probably expected and it’s one where we had to look at January and say we just had to get through this month.

“It happens every season where you come out of the Christmas period and you’re almost fighting for your lives then for the whole of January to regain your freshness.

“Once you get into February and the weather changes a little and the pitches get a bit better then I think you’ll see most teams kick on again.”

Boss David Moyes endorsed his captain’s asessment.

After Saturday’s draw with Aston Villa he said: “We’ve lost three games this season and we’re into February now. I think that’s got to be put into perspective. I’m glad we're through that busy period, but it’s been busy for other clubs too.”