Martinez coy on top four chances
Everton manager Roberto Martinez believes it is too early to determine if his guarantee of bringing Champions League football to Goodison Park can come to fruition this season.
It was back in June at Martinez's unveiling when Toffees chairman Bill Kenwright revealed how the interviewee had won him over with a bold proclamation to elevate the club into Europe's premier cup competition.
That was a feat Martinez's predecessor David Moyes managed just once, in 2005, and a controversial two-legged defeat to Villarreal during the the qualifying stages remains the only Champions League experience Everton fans have sampled.
But, with the landmark of 20 Barclays Premier League fixtures already completed, the Toffees lie just one point and one place outside of the much-coveted top four and supporters are beginning to dream of Martinez's promise becoming a reality in just his first season.
There is no specific target in mind for the manager himself, though, at least not at this stage.
"You always wait until the final third of the season to set the final aim," he said.
"We started well and I feel we have a really good squad of players with terrific talent and a great mentality and we had a good start. But, to talk about aims in the league, you need to wait until you get in to the final nine, 10 games then, depending on the points tally, you can dream of one aim or another.
"We're in a good place but all we need to do now over the next nine (home) games is to get as many points as we can and that will give us the opportunity to fight for one aim or another.
"So far, the football that we've played and the way we've shown the strength in our squad allows you to feel confident every time you go on the pitch, to feel that you can be yourself whoever you got up against. Those two aspects are the most important ones to show in a 10-month competition. I'm really pleased with that."
That strength in the squad has been increasingly evident ever since central-defensive partners Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin succumbed to hamstring injuries.
The onus then fell on experienced Paraguay international Antolin Alcaraz and teenage defender John Stones to fill the voids and while the former is no stranger to Martinez from their time together at Wigan, it is the latter, an ex-Barnsley trainee, who has delighted his boss with his swift progression.
"John impressed so much in pre-season that I saw he was always ready to help the team," said Martinez, who may be without Ross Barkley due to a toe injury.
"He's a young man in age but I think he's ready in terms of the levels that are needed. John has been involved in many games now and, if you look at the games he's been involved in in the Premier League, he's had many diverse experiences playing in different positions and his role is growing.
"The way that he performed against Stoke and against QPR, that only helps his case and he's one of the players that is fighting to earn his starting spot; that's where he is. Believe me, he has an incredible future."
Stones and Alcaraz look set to be in tandem again at home to Norwich on Saturday with Jagielka and Distin's return pencilled in for the trip to West Brom on the following Monday.
Goalkeeper John Ruddy admits his focus will be fully on trying to help keep Norwich in the Premier League as he looks to end the season with a dream place in England's World Cup squad.
The 27-year-old has certainly been give plenty of practice behind a Norwich defence which has leaked 33 league goals this season, including heavy defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool.
However, in recent weeks the Canaries have at least shown some signs of improvement in all-round performances and will look to extend a three-match unbeaten away record when they travel to Everton on Saturday to edge further clear of the battle of survival.
Ruddy missed out on Euro 2012 following a freak finger injury just ahead of the tournament, but hopes things will run much differently this time around as he aims to offer Roy Hodgson experienced back-up to Joe Hart and Ben Foster.
"I would not say it is at the forefront of my mind, as I have a few more pressing (issues) to deal with that the moment with Norwich," Ruddy said.
"Certainly it is an aim, it has to be for any English player in the Premier League is to be to try to break into the World Cup squad, and I am no different.
"The way I have played in the last three years in the Premier League stands me in good stead, as will the way I have been with the squad when I have joined up.
"I have got a little bit of a head start over other people.
"It is obvious Joe Hart and probably Ben Foster will be the first and second choice, if I can get that third spot it will be a dream come true to get a place on that plane to Brazil."
Norwich will have Dutchman Leroy Fer back from a one-match suspension while fellow midfielders Wes Hoolahan and Bradley Johnson also return to the squad after
sitting out last weekend's FA Cup third-round draw with Fulham, as does captain Sebastien Bassong.