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NIKICA Jelavic’s form will make or break Everton’s season, admits David Moyes.
The Blues boss is desperately hoping his struggling striker recaptures his prolific edge in time to fire the club into Europe.
Jelavic has not scored in the Premier League since his late winner against Spurs on December 9, and Moyes believes that the Croatian’s luck must turn if this season is to be a success.
The former Rangers forward will get the chance to lead the line against Norwich at Carrow Road today, and Moyes said: “Undoubtedly he can be the difference for us between now and the end of the season.
“I think that if he fires again and scores we can have a really strong end to the season.
“Ultimately if he doesn’t then you know it could be hard going between now and the end. We are going to have to keep grinding results out and plugging away.
“Last year at this time of year nearly everything he touched went into the net. I do think that you need your forward to be in good form, so we hope we can get him back into some level of where he was before.”
Moyes admits that the 27-year-old’s barren spell is certain to have knocked his confidence – even if he doesn’t quite realise it.
“I don’t really have any great thought on it,” he said of the man he signed for £5m in January 2012. “I just hope he can find his way again. It is always confidence in things like this but sometimes you don’t realise that until you come back into form.
“You think ‘Look what I am doing and where I was’. You don’t realise until you come back into it.
“How we finish the season will have a lot to do with how Nikica Jelavic performs and scores.
“We need his goals and performances as we do with Kevin Mirallas. His form at the start of the season was very good, he has not quite reached that since he came back and we could do with both those players helping us in this part of the season.”
Moyes insists that Jelavic, who retains the full faith of the Goodison dressing room, has shown signs of rediscovering his form after a brief period of being excluded from the starting line-up.
He added: “We are encouraging him. He has missed a few games out to see whether he needed a rest or a breather and I think he is showing signs.
“He missed a couple against Oldham but in a way that was a good sign because he hadn’t had many misses recently so from that point of view I think it was a good sign that he was beginning to get in the positions again and have chances to score.
“Obviously we do all the things to try and make sure when he gets the opportunities he takes them.
“But he is a great lad around the place, a pleasure to work with, he is liked by everybody, he is top boy, he really is.”
WHEN it comes to his handling of Kevin Mirallas during the Belgian forward’s debut Premier League season, David Moyes has been a model of patience.
The Blues boss has given his £6m summer recruit every chance to rest and recuperate from the niggly hamstring complaint which limited him to just one first-team appearance between November 10 and January 21, and even sent him to renowned German specialist Dr Hans Müller-Wohlfahrt to try and find a cure.
But now the Scot wants a return for his softly-softly approach.
Everton missed Mirallas’ spark during his protracted absence, and Moyes has told the 25-year-old to up his game ahead of a crucial period.
The former Olympiakos winger has featured in each of Everton’s last six matches in all competitions, but Moyes feels he is yet to really get into his stride again.
“I don’t think he is firing on all cylinders,” he says.
“He has not returned the way I would like him yet. He is still getting used to the Premier League and I think he has to create me more goals and score me more goals.
“That is what I am waiting for him to do, and he knows that - I have told him that. We are hoping for more.
“I think his form at the start of the season was excellent and we saw what he was capable of.
“I don’t think we have really had that from him since he came back from his injury.”
Everton head into today’s Premier League game at Norwich lying sixth in the table, six points off fourth with 12 top-flight fixtures to play.
And the Blues, winners only once in their last five league matches, face a Canaries side faring far worse, after going nine top-flight fixtures without registering a victory.
Chris Hughton’s men were on a 10-game unbeaten run before that, and Moyes thinks their record shows how fine the margins are in the Premier League.
“There is very little (difference) between when Norwich were winning their games early on, and where they are just now,” the Scot says.
“I think it can simply be maybe a centre-forward not scoring when he was doing it in the early part of the season, or a simple goalkeeping mistake changing a game.
“The games are so tight and there is very little between the teams.
“I think Chris Hughton has done a really good job. It was always going to be hard going in after Paul (Lambert) but he has picked up the baton really well at Norwich.
“I don’t think they look like a club that are going to be in trouble at all this year. Chris has done well.”
Victor Anichebe’s condition will be assessed after he came off at half-time in last Saturday’s original FA Cup tie at Oldham - a 2-2 draw - having picked up a knock.
But defender Seamus Coleman, who has been sidelined by a thigh problem, has been back in training and is in with a chance of resurrecting his right-sided partnership with Mirallas.
“We knew when we lost both Tony Hibbert and Seamus we were always going to be short and it was going to be a test,” says Moyes.
“It will be good to get Seamus back. He’s got a bit of work to do at times on the defensive side of it but he’s improving as a full back and he gets forward really well and gives us something.
“It could energise Kevin Mirallas, and it’s another attacking option for us even though he’s a full back.”
Although Moyes is keen to ramp-up his side’s goal threat he’s fully aware of the need to achieve that much sought-after balance of not conceding at the same time.
“We have conceded goals against Aston Villa, Manchester United and Oldham and we have to look to tighten the team up now so we are not looking to have to score two or three each game to win,” he adds.
“We want to try and keep in touch with the teams above us.
“It is an important week. We have to try and maintain a good league position and get through in the cup.”
GOALS win games. It’s got to be one of the most ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ of all the mind-numbing cliches football tends to churn out – and that’s saying something.
But as ever, it’s a cliche because it’s true, and around this time 10 years ago Evertonians were reminded of that when a centre forward did the business in a timely fashion David Moyes’ modern-day squad craves dearly.
On the back page of today’s ECHO, and elsewhere in this supplement, the Blues boss has underlined why it’s so important his attacking players start scoring.
And what he’d give for the type of attacking impetus Thomas Radzinski provided at this point in the 2002/03 Premier League campaign.
The Blues were trailing at home to Southampton thanks to a first-half James Beattie strike and with 10 minutes left things were not looking good and the natives were restless.
Sitting pretty in fifth place in the table beforehand Moyes’ men were looking good, but the visitors managed by another ginger Scot Gordon Strachan, were hot on their heels and looked like taking a valuable three points.
That reckoned without the Polish pocket-rocket who levelled in the 83rd minute, and then saved his very best for last with a 93rd minute thunderbolt which almost burst the Gwladys Street net.
It was a truly coupon-busting contribution that shook Goodison royally.
How dearly such a strike would have been welcomed in recent weeks when Everton have conspired to fluff chances, and leave themselves vulnerable to being undone at the last-gasp.
The concern, however, is that Everton circa February 2003 had more goal-scoring options than they do now.
Moyes was able to start that day with the in-form Brian McBride, a proven forward who could lead the line admirably, alongside Radzinksi and had the luxury of the club’s eventual top scorer that season, Kevin Campbell, on the bench alongside none other than Wayne Rooney.
That year Moyes laid down a marker by guiding Everton to seventh place in his first full season in charge at Goodison. If he wants to go three places better in what could be his final campaign, he’s going to need the scoring options he does have to start clicking fast.
David Moyes reckons ending Nikica Jelavic’s goal drought is the key to a sensational top four finish for Everton.
The Croatian striker is regarded as one of the most natural finishers in English football, but has endured a barren spell stretching back to early October that has seen him score just two Premier League goals in 19 matches.
Yet this time last year, after moving to Goodison from Rangers he began a stunning run of form from March 10 to the end of the season that saw him score 12 goals in just 15 matches, and help catapult the Blues up the table.
And Moyes believes if he can only inspire a similar purple patch, the gifted goal-scorer can inspire Everton towards their Champions League dream.
“Undoubtedly he can be the difference for us between now and the end of the season. I think that if he fires and scores we can have a really strong end to the season, and yeah it could get us into the top four,” explained the Scot before Saturday's trip to Norwich.
“Ultimately if he doesn’t then you know it could be hard going between now and the end, we are going to have to keep grinding results out and plugging away. Last year, at this time of year, nearly everything he touched went into the net.
“I do think that you need your forward to be in good form we hope we can get him back into some level of where we was before. That could be the key for us, because how we finish the season will depend a lot on how Nikica Jelavic performs.”
The Toffees visit Carrow Road knowing they must return to winning ways, it's now just one victory in their last five league games, if they are to remain within touching distance of the top four.
But Moyes revealed he has seen encouraging signs lately, of Jelavic rediscovering the sort of form that saw Everton boast the best end of season record of all the top flight clubs this time last year.
“He has missed a few games out to see whether he needed a rest or a breather and I think he is showing signs,” the Goodison boss added.
“He missed a couple against Oldham but in a way that was a good sign because he was getting into the positions to score again, where he hadn’t been having many chances to score before.
“He is a great lad around the place, a pleasure to work with, he is liked by everybody, he is a top boy, he really is, and we really hope he can get back to his best.”
Jelavic will start the game as there's an injury doubt over Victor Anichebe, while Seamus Coleman could return after a lay-off.
Norwich defender Seb Bassong is intent on inflicting more misery on Everton by inspiring Norwich to their first win in 10 games.
Bassong, 24, scored his first ever goal for the club in the last minute of the 1-1 draw at Goodison in November.
He said: "I have always wanted to score an important late goal so that made it a very special goal for me.
"I like responsibility and I always try to be a leader, so I will be trying my best for the team to make sure we win."
The £4million signing from Spurs admits the Canaries, whose only victory in their last 11 games came in the FA Cup, need to start winning again to avoid being sucked into the relegation battle.
"It's been a long time since we last won, so we have to change that as soon as possible," said Bassong. "That's why we all have to dig deep if we want to win because we aren't good enough to do it any other way.
"As a team we have to scrap and fight for every point we get and if we don't do that then we will lose. We have to start winning these sort of games and if we want to do that then we all have to give our maximum.
"If not, then we could easily find ourselves back down near the bottom of the table again."
EVERTON boss David Moyes has told struggling striker Nikica Jelavic: We need you to fire us into Europe.
The Croatian hitman transformed the Toffees’ season when he signed from Scottish giants Rangers 12 months ago.
But he has not scored since grabbing the winner against Tottenham back at the start of December.
Everton have slipped off the pace in their bid to land fourth place for the first time in eight years, failing to score in three of their last five league games.
And Moyes is desperate for Jelavic to rediscover his old goal-scoring form.
He believes the 27-year-old could be the key to the Toffees clinching a place in Europe next season.
The Goodison boss said: “How we finish the season will have a lot to do with how Nikica Jelavic performs and scores.
“He can be the difference for us. If he fires and scores I think we can have a really strong end to the season.
“If he doesn’t, then you know it could be hard going between now and the end.
“We are going to have to keep grinding results out and plugging away.”
Jelavic scored nine goals in the second half of last season, including a double at today’s opponents Norwich, to hoist the Blues to an impressive seventh-place finish.
But this time around he has managed just seven in all competitions.
And Moyes said: “Last year at this time nearly everything he touched went into the net.
“You need your forward to be in good form. We hope we can get him back to some level of where he was before.
“I just hope he can find his way again.”
Everton face a vital few days as today’s trip to Carrow Road is followed by Tuesday’s FA Cup replay against Oldham.
And the Blues chief added: “He missed a couple against Oldham but in a way that was a good sign – he’s beginning to get in the positions again.”
NIKICA JELAVIC has been told Everton’s hopes of qualifying for Europe rest on his ability to rediscover the form that made the Premier League sit up and take note.
The Croatia striker was left in no doubt as to his importance to the cause as David Moyes made the blunt admission that the club’s future prospects, and by association his own role as manager beyond this season, will be largely shaped by whether his player can regain his scoring touch.
Jelavic has struggled to match his feats in the second half of last season when he plundered 11 goals to make his £5 million move from Rangers appear a snip and leave many top-flight clubs wondering why they had not taken a chance on him.
The last of his seven goals this term came against Cheltenham in the FA Cup on January 7 and Moyes is anxious for the marksman to fire once again, starting against Norwich today.
“Undoubtedly he can be the difference between now and the end of the season,” said Moyes. “How we finish will have a lot to do with how Nikica performs and scores. If he fires, and scores, we can have a really strong end to the season. If he doesn’t then it could be hard going, we will have to keep grinding out results and plugging away.
“This time last year nearly everything he touched went into the net. We hope we can get him back to that sort of level.”
Jelavic moved to Goodison Park with the carrot of gate-crashing Croatia’s Euro 2012 squad dangling in front of him. His goals earned him a place but he has not been nearly as clinical.
He was off target in the FA Cup tie at Oldham last Saturday in which the League One side forced a replay with a last-minute equaliser, although Moyes’ frustration was tempered.
“Nikica missed a couple but, in a way, that was a good sign because he was beginning to get in the positions to score again” said Moyes.
“We are encouraging him. He has missed a few games to see whether he needed a breather and I just hope he can find his way again.
“It is always to do with confidence but sometimes you don’t realise that until you come back into form. You think, ‘Look what I am doing now and where I was’.
“We need his goals and performances as we do with Kevin Mirallas. Kevin’s form at the start of the season was very good. He has not quite reached that since he returned from injury.”
Everton’s looming run-in involves games against Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester City and also a Merseyside derby with Liverpool and Moyes knows that as well as Jelavic firing, he needs his defence to shore up.
“We have conceded goals against Aston Villa, Manchester United and Oldham and we have to tighten up now so we are not needing to score two or three each game to win,” he said.
EVERTON have set their sights on a summer move for Spartak Moscow midfielder Aiden McGeady.
The former Celtic star has emerged as a Toffees target, as Moyes is looking to make a few additions in the summer.
And with Marouane Fellaini tipped with a move to Chelsea, McGeady could fill the void left behind.
McGeady's agent Jan Dreyer admitted his client is open to a move to England.
He told Russian paper Izvestia: "If Aiden does get a really serious offer from England, which suits the management at Spartak Moscow, we will certainly consider it."
McGeady has scored three goals in 13 appearances for Spartak this season.
His contract with Spartak expires in 2014.
PREMIER LEAGUE sides Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton are watching Olympique Lyonnais defender Dejan Lovren with a view to a summer transfer.
The 23-year-old Crotian is attracting interest from England after a strong season for the French side, where he has made 19 appearances.
And reports from Spanish transfer website fichajes.com claim that the former Diano Zagreb player could be on the move for around £8.5m.
Although Lovren has suffered a number of injuries in recent years, he is fast becoming one of the most complete central defenders on the continent.
The Croatian international started for Lyon during their 1-1 draw with Tottenham last night, and helped the southern French side keep out Spurs and Gareth Bale until the 90th minute when Mousa Dembele struck a heartbreaking equaliser to see the visitors through.
Lovren does appear to have a disciplinary problem though, having picked up three red cards in just eight games earlier in the season for Les Gones.
But with the Blues, Reds and Toffees all watching the stopper, he could well be testing himself in the Premier League soon.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez will revive his bid to sign Aiden McGeady in the summer but will face competition from Everton and Sunderland.
The Spartak Moscow winger, 26, came close to joining the Premier League strugglers in January.
Martinez said: ‘For one reason or another, the deal broke down. When you like a player, you always like a player.’