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Tim Howard claims Everton must "go to another level" if they are going to bag a Champions League spot.
The Blues have lost some ground in recent matches in the race for the top four - their draw against Manchester City means they have won just one of their last nine league games.
Although they have lost just once during that run, Howard knows they must improve on a return of 10 points from the 27 on offer.
"We need to go to another level in January," said the American goalkeeper.
"We have to try and challenge ourselves, and if we want to be where we think we should be we have to get better.
"We've had a good start and we've played well consistently. I think we're right there in the thick of it with the top teams."
While Howard was pleased with Everton's draws against City and Arsenal, he rues the points dropped in defeat at Reading, and in draws with Norwich and QPR.
"We went toe-to-toe with the champions and gave as good as we got," he said. "The second half was tough for us, but our defensive shape and commitment was really good.
"The draw midweek and the point against City were good - it was the one against Norwich which really messed us up a bit."
Everton defender Sylvain Distin, who is out of contract in the summer, says he wants to remain in the Premier League.
The 35-year-old, who has attracted interest from QPR and Tottenham in recent months, has been in and out of Everton's side this season but has impressed when starting in the last three games.
However, manager David Moyes is eager to bring in younger players and has scouted Molde's Vegard Forren, 24, and revealed a desire to take Joleon Lescott on loan from Manchester City. Distin believes he can still perform at the highest level.
He told EvertonTV: 'Being on the bench, I didn't like it and I think it's my longest spell on the bench since I started football. I did hate it but I did try to take the positives out of it and it made me realise that I'm not ready to stop at all.
'I'm not ready to be on the bench at all and that's a good thing. 'I'm working hard every day not to be on the bench, but we have four great centre-backs.
'We have an England international [Phil Jagielka], a Dutch international who played in the final of the World Cup [John Heitinga] and then you have me and [Shane] Duffy.
'It's tough competition but it is healthy competition. We enjoy playing with each other and there is no tension between us.
'This can only make us better and we know that we have to perform week in and week out, otherwise there will be another two players who will be picked.
'The reason I am in England is to play against the best strikers and I would rather have those kind of challenges every week rather than play in a league where I don't enjoy my football. 'I know it is difficult but that is what makes football magic for me.'
SYLVAIN DISTIN has warned the Everton faithful to be “realistic” about reaching a top-four qualifying place for the Champions League.
David Moyes’ side have drawn seven of their last nine games, which has dampened hopes of battling it out with Europe’s elite next season.
However, French defender Distin believes Everton should be pleased with their position considering they do not have the financial muscle of those surrounding them.
Distin, 34, points out that Everton were 14th after 15 games last season, which means this campaign is a marked improvement so far.
He said: “A lot of people will moan at us for not winning games but remember where we were at this time last season.
“It is disappointing to be out of the top four but look at how much the teams around us have spent. Look at how much we have spent and we lose a top player every season.
“People have to be realistic. We have to realise that at the moment we are doing really well.”
SYLVAIN DISTIN says his recent spell out of the Everton team reinvigorated his hunger to carry on playing.
The French defender turns 35 this month but insists he has no intention of hanging up his boots anytime soon.
Distin lost his place in David Moyes’ side last month, and had to be content with a place on the bench for three weeks, sitting out matches against Sunderland and Reading.
But he has impressed since his recall to the starting line-up, helping the Blues to solid defensive displays against Arsenal and Manchester City.
He said: “I’m working hard every day not to be on the bench, but we have four great centre-backs.
“We have an England international (Jagielka), a Dutch international who played in the final of the World Cup (Heitinga) and then you have me and (Shane) Duffy.
“It’s tough competition but it is healthy competition. We enjoy playing with each other and there is no tension between us.
“This can only make us better and we know that we have to perform week in and week out, otherwise there will be another two players who will be picked.
“Being on the bench, I didn’t like it and I think it’s my longest spell on the bench since I started football.
“So, if you ask me, I did hate it. But I did try to take the positives out of it and it made me realise that I’m not ready to stop at all. I’m not ready to be on the bench, and that’s a good thing.”
Distin was in upbeat mood following the 1-1 draw against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
“I know a lot of people will moan at us for not winning games but they have to remember where we were at this time last season,” he added.
“We haven’t conceded many goals, we are scoring more and we are sitting in a comfortable position.
“I was asked before Arsenal about whether we have a point to prove. We don’t because we prove a point every week.
“People have to be realistic.
“Some people might think I’m being pessimistic but I’m not – I want to win every single game and I want to play in the Champions League, who doesn’t?
“But we have to realise that at the moment we are doing really well.”
MAROUANE FELLAINI is too clever to leave Everton FC in January, insists Steven Pienaar.
The Belgian midfielder’s future has been the subject of speculation as the new year transfer window approaches, with David Moyes bracing himself for interest in the club’s top scorer.
However Pienaar believes the 25-year-old, who notched his eighth goal of the season during Saturday’s 1-1 draw with reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, will be smart enough not to depart Goodison at a pivotal point of his career on Merseyside when he is playing better than ever.
He said: “He’s enjoying his game at the moment so I don’t think he’ll want to disturb that progress. He’s clever enough not to go.
“I don’t think he will go in January. I’m sure the manager will keep hold of him.
“There’s a lot of speculation about but he’s still contracted to the club, and if we keep going like this we know it might still be hard to keep hold of him in the future – but who knows? He’s been very important to us these last few weeks.”
Fellaini has already confirmed he is happy to remain at Everton if the Blues can qualify for the Champions League next season.