Liverpool defender Glen Johnson insists the club have moved forward under Brendan Rodgers.
Any outside hope of a coveted top-four slot almost certainly vanished on Sunday when the Reds failed to overcome a dogged West Ham outfit at Anfield. It is not exactly what was envisaged when Rodgers was installed as manager to replace Kenny Dalglish last summer. But Johnson insists there has been a marked improvement.
"Brendan was brought in to rebuild the squad and put Liverpool back into the places that it should be," said the 28-year-old.
"This season has been a step closer to that. Eight times out of 10 we have dominated games. Sometimes, like against West Ham, we haven't come away with the points that we deserve. We have battered teams but if we don't get that early goal, it has given them encouragement."
Statistics back up Johnson's argument to an extent. An eighth-placed finish last term is likely to become seventh at worst this, and no one at Anfield is giving up on hauling back Everton's present three-point advantage on the run-in.
With 49 points, the Reds are now just three adrift of the tally Kenny Dalglish collected last term, and relegation-threatened Reading and QPR are among their final six opponents. Yet Dalglish won the League Cup last year, and reached the FA Cup final, leaving the actual progress made under Rodgers open to interpretation.
"Brendan wants to put us back in the top four but he wasn't asked to do that in his first season," said Johnson.
"If we improve on last season then it is a step in the right direction, and we have definitely done that. It's a few things. Look at the squad, the feeling there is around the place, the football we are playing. We won a trophy last season and of course that was fantastic. Everyone wants to win; that's what we are in the game for.
"But in terms of getting Liverpool back where they belong, we want to be back in the top four."
And Johnson is convinced the improvement will continue next season. "I wouldn't say it has been a season when we have been so close but so far," said Johnson. "It is clearly a better season than the last one. Brendan will look to improve again in the summer and if we can start nicking the goals we need from games like West Ham, we will be right in amongst it."