RARELY one to mince his words, David Moyes responds definitively when asked whether he has enjoyed this see-saw campaign.
“No,” he says, before pausing. Moyes is readying his troops for another game against a side, in Wigan Athletic, that his team underwhelmed against earlier this season. But he cannot shake-off the frustration at how those early stumbles against sides like Wigan, Wolves and West Brom cost him dearly.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been enjoyable. I had higher expectations and don’t feel I’ve reached them this year,” he says.
“I enjoyed how we played in some earlier games this season but it didn’t get me any results, and in turn that plays with how you are going to find ways of winning.
“I wasn’t happy two or three months ago and thought we were going to have to just get back to basics to get results.
“The nice football didn’t get us goals, then we were making the odd individual mistake at the back. We were losing by 1-0 or disappointing at home to the likes of Newcastle, Wigan, West Brom and Wolves.
“If we’d just won two of those four games then we’d still be in with a shout of European competition.
“We missed the goals. It’s probably what hampered us for the first eight weeks of the season and left us with too much to do to catch the others. Goals change games. Look at our win at Wolves – we could have been behind early but Wolves missed their chances and we took ours to leave us with three more points towards our total. We went to St James’ park before that and played well, but more importantly we took our chances.
“Last year from January our form was terrific and it’s picked up again. So we can finish well but we need that good start.”
Moyes was bemused by reports linking him with Aston Villa, and although his future has been the subject of recurring speculation this season, the Scot has continually insisted he is happy at Goodison Park.
“It is nothing to do with me,” he said.
“I am at a great club and have got a great job. I don’t know what to say.”
The Toffees were unbeaten in seven games prior to last week’s loss at Manchester United and their strong run is bringing a generally disappointing campaign to a positive conclusion.
“This is probably the position where most people would have put us,” he says. “Most people would have said we’d be between fifth and eighth.
“I’m disappointed because I felt we could have gone one better than that.
“But there is still enough to play for, we have tried to emphasise to the players it is important we stay near the top.
“That is where we want to be and I have not seen any signs from the players to suggest they think any different.”
Everton end the season with home games against Manchester City and Chelsea, either side of a match at West Brom.
First they must tackle Wigan, who are anxious for points at the bottom end of the table.
Moyes said: “They are always pretty tough games against Wigan.
“Roberto (Martinez) always gets his team playing in a good footballing style, but I am sure at the moment winning is the key.
“We had a spell six or eight weeks ago when I felt we had to make sure we won.
“Luckily we did and when you get those wins it brings a bit of confidence back to the team and the squad and hopefully your performances can improve.
“Just over a week ago Wigan came out of the bottom three for the first time in a long while and they will know they are not far away from that.”
Everton playmaker Mikel Arteta could return after five games out with a hamstring injury having trained this week.
Midfielder Tim Cahill is likely to be involved but again only as a substitute as he continues his recovery from a foot injury.
The Australian came off the bench at Old Trafford after sitting out six out of the previous seven games.
The 31-year-old has endured a gruelling schedule having played in the World Cup and Asian Cup in the past year.
Moyes said: “It is concerning because it is one of these things that may go tomorrow or it might still be there in three months’ time.
“It is something that tends to just burn itself out and get better in time.”