We've made big strides - Moyes
Everton boss David Moyes believes his team can reflect on an outstanding 2012. The Merseysiders could end the calendar year as high as third in the Premier League if they beat Chelsea at Goodison Park on Sunday. The past 12 months have seen Everton reach a new level of consistency under Moyes, starting with the signings of Nikica Jelavic, Darron Gibson and Steven Pienaar last January which sparked a charge up the table. After a poor start to the 2011/12 season, the Toffees ended the campaign seventh and they have carried that momentum into the first half of the current term. Moyes said: "I think we have had a good year. From this time last year we kicked on and finished the season very strongly and from the start of this one we have been the same. "I think we would have to say it is maybe as good as we have had. I think our football has improved and we look a threat. "With Jelavic's arrival, with his goals - he has given us something we have not had for a long time. And I think overall you have seen big improvements. "The Leighton Baines-Steven Pienaar partnership is back together, the form of people like Leon Osman and Darron Gibson... overall we have been really pleased with 2012." Having finally shaken off their tag as slow-starters, the challenge now for Everton is to produce another of the strong finishes of recent seasons to push for Champions League qualification. Moyes said: "That is what we will try to do, but it is going to be tough. "If anyone thinks we are a shoo-in to do it - I'm telling them it is going to be a long, hard season. "There are a lot of difficult away games to come and we are going to need the crowd at Goodison to help us in games like last Saturday against Wigan, when we had to dig it out and see it through." Moyes is now only three months away from the 11th anniversary of his appointment and, despite frequently being constrained by tight budgets, he has no doubt the club are healthier than when he arrived. He said: "It is always difficult to improve, but you have got to try to progress and I think we have. "Have we improved year on year? I would think there has been a gradual improvement. "I think we have become an even more stable football club as the years have gone on. "I think it is less and less likely that Everton will be involved at the wrong end of the table - although in the last three or four years, in the first few months of the season, we have been saying we will be in a relegation fight if we don't sort ourselves out. "But by the end of the season we have always looked like a pretty solid top-half team." Everton, who have lost just two of their first 19 league games, face another form side tomorrow in Chelsea, who are now managed by former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez. Benitez has overseen six wins in the last seven games in all competitions, arresting the slump which led to the sacking of previous boss Roberto Di Matteo last month. The one defeat in that sequence for Chelsea was in the Club World Cup final, while one of the victories was an 8-0 hammering of Aston Villa. Moyes said: "I hope we are the ones that are really in form and get the result. "Chelsea are a side who look like they are picking up and gaining confidence - but it is no surprise with the players they have got at their disposal. "The bigger surprise was probably them not winning as people expected." Benitez, who once described Everton as one of the Premier League's "smaller teams", is likely to receive a hostile reception from the home fans. The hosts are again without influential midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who completes his three-match suspension for headbutting Stoke's Ryan Shawcross. Gibson is not banned after successfully appealing against last weekend's red card at West Ham, but must overcome a thigh strain.
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