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STEVEN NAISMITH believes Nikica Jelavic can cope with the pressure of firing Everton FC back into contention for Europe.
David Moyes believes the Croatian’s form will be crucial to whether the sixth-placed Blues can finish this season strongly, and his former Rangers team-mate is confident he can stay mentally strong as he bids to find the goal-scoring form which made him an instant success on Merseyside after arriving in January 2012.
Jelavic has not scored in the league since December 9, and drew another blank at Carrow Road on Saturday as Everton conceded two late goals to crash to a 2-1 defeat which cast further doubt on their top four credentials.
“There’s no doubt he can handle the pressure,” said the Scotland international forward.
“If you look at how the games are going now the ball just isn’t breaking to him. It’s not about him not trying or being lazy.
“There were a couple of times against Norwich again when the ball didn’t fall to him. But his other parts of his games are working well.
“He put a few balls across the face of goal for other people, and he’ll always give you that if not the goals he usually scores as well.
“You could look at it that way, but the goal came from Ossie bursting a gut to get into the space which Jela had created. That was where the goal came from.
“That’s one thing about this club – it’s never about one individual, it’s about the team. If the ball isn’t dropping to Jela he’ll become the creator which is what the manager would expect.”
Naismith admitted Everton were angry at themselves for the defensive failings which allowed Kai Kamara to level for Norwich, and then Grant Holt to score in the 94th minute.
“I think we are disappointed we didn’t deal with the balls into the box,” he said.
“We’ve been working on it in training because we’ve lost a few late goals that way. It’s disappointing but we need to move on.
“We controlled it for the first hour of the game and got the goal but the big thing is we didn’t get the second to kill the game off.
You’ve got to credit Norwich for the way they fought until the end.
“We knew it was going to be a tough place to come but we felt like we were in control.
“The manager was disappointed we didn’t have many shots in the second half or take our chances.
“The amount of comfortable possession we had we should have got the second.”
Naismith, who had a rare start for the Toffees in East Anglia, admits the defeat has hurt the club’s Champions League ambitions.
He added: “When you drop points it gives the teams around you an opportunity and that’s what’s happened.
“It will make it tougher but we just need to go into the next league game hoping the reverse happens.
“The Oldham game will be another tough game but we’re at home and with the fans behind us we’ll hopefully put on a professional performance.”
MAROUANE FELLAINI says fate will decide whether he leaves Everton FC for Chelsea in the summer.
The Belgian midfielder reiterated once again his wish to play in the Champions League next season, but was reluctant to dismiss the prospect of staying at Goodison.
He said: “Am I interested in Chelsea? It’s normal, right? I’ve never played in the Champions League!
“But I’m happy here, I know everyone, I get along with my team-mates. It’s my home. On the other hand, I also want to take the next step. Fate will decide.
“Everton paid £20million and do not want to sell me for nothing.
“If a big club wants me, they will have to pay the price.”
NO wonder Everton FC manager David Moyes was urging referee Lee Mason to blow the final whistle so fervently.
Sixteen seconds added to injury time shouldn’t make much of a difference to a resilient defensive outfit, but so often when it matters lately Everton simply aren’t a resilient defensive outfit.
Earlier in this watershed season they were perhaps less watertight because of their new-found cavalier attacking instinct – these days it’s just infectious panic.
Now their tendency to forget the basics at the final hurdle has pushed their Champions league credentials further into the category marked tenuous. Everton have conceded in the last 15 minutes a damaging nine times this season, and they just haven’t been scoring the goals to take the sting out of such carelessness.
What’s more they have now surrendered game-changing goals in the 90th minute or later on five occasions. It’s a discernible problem which must be quickly solved.
For 93 minutes and 16 seconds at Carrow Road on Saturday, it was set to be the familiar story of Everton regretting their inability to both keep a clean sheet while finishing off inferior opponents.
Then it got worse. Much worse.
Time eventually ran out too late for Moyes men. There was a nagging fear that it was the end for much more.
Short of a Herculean return to form in conjunction with an unlikely collapse for Spurs, qualifying for the Europa League seems a more realistic prospect than Europe’s elite club competition.
With 11 Premier League games remaining it would be premature to write their top four hopes off completely, but the Blues have certainly made life difficult for themselves.
Everton’s squad is lacking zest at the time they need it most, and the club’s failure to add attacking impetus in January is being placed in stark and predictable perspective.
MLS import Kai Kamara looked like the sort of lively loan signing Everton craved.
Sadly he entered an otherwise drab contest in a yellow shirt, and proceeded to change the game in the hosts’ favour.
Everton’s pursuit of high-quality additions such as Leroy Fer and Alvaro Negredo in January were admirably ambitious.
But as bids for the pair only materialised towards the middle and end of the month, it’s hard not to wonder whether that undermined the club’s ability to draft in short-term loan captures to supplement the squad’s attacking options.
Granted Moyes was able to call on his own potential game changer in Kevin Mirallas, but that switch came at the expense of a formerly bona fide goalscorer in Nikica Jelavic.
The Blues boss had not hesitated in reminding Jelavic beforehand of the all encompassing importance attached to him finding form. But based on this evidence the Scot will be waiting a while.
As usual it’s not down to a lack of endeavour. Jelavic toils gamely but when the openings which he would once have dispatched ruthlessly arrive, he oozes self doubt. It’s painful to watch.
The hope is that one decisive flourish will once again open the flood gates. Let’s hope Oldham feel the backlash on Tuesday, but even that encounter will bring its own problems if Everton continue to defend so feebly when the pressure is on.
Their downfall in Norwich was all the more frustrating because they largely controlled the game, and looked the better side despite Norwich’s spirited start.
Just six minutes had gone when Wes Hoolahan played in Robert Snodgrass who had his close-range shot blocked by Sylvain Distin and deflected over the bar.
Then Distin almost set up Jelavic at the other end when the Croatian chested down his long punt skilfully but his stabbed effort lacked conviction and was saved at the near post by Mark Bunn.
The struggling forward might have been labouring under that stark warning from his manager, but he at least seemed up for the challenge; taking up good positions and stretching the hosts back line in the first half an hour.
The Blues began to ratchet up the early pressure, with Steven Pienaar causing trouble by drifting into the middle and again suggesting he is closing in on his best form, although they still lacked a final cutting edge.
In the end it took an old head to get them off the mark. Luciano Becchio had almost teed up Grant Holt who had his shot well saved by Tim Howard, with the Blues high defensive line leaving them vulnerable on the break.
But they weathered the danger and Leighton Baines sent a smart cross to the near post and the unmarked Leon Osman planted his header confidently past Mark Bunn.
Jelavic’s presence had diverted the attention of both Norwich’s central defenders, a reminder that they haven’t forgotten what he is capable of doing to opponents.
After the break Kamara drew a save from Howard with an acrobatic effort, then he sent a downward header just wide of the American’s left-hand post.
Then Darron Gibson , not operating at his best due to the injury he is currently carrying, swept an effort over the crossbar at the other end.
The crucial second didn’t come, and like at Goodison when the sides last met, the Blues were made to pay in the end. First Kamara rose highest to power home Snodgrass’ corner from the left, as Marouane Fellaini failed to challenge the Sierra Leonean convincingly. Just like at Oldham Everton dropped deeper and deeper. Snodgrass sent in another teasing cross, and when Sebastien Bassong climbed highest at the far post, Holt was there to bundle the ball home.
Cue angry scenes as Moyes strode onto the pitch to demand answers from the match official about his inexplicable decision to add that extra, extra time. But deep down he will know he has greater problems to solve than erratic referees.
DAVID MOYES conceded that Everton FC's hopes of a top-four finish were slim after they succumbed to a painful late defeat to Norwich City at Carrow Road.
Two goals in the final six minutes, from Kei Kamara and Grant Holt, condemned the Blues to an unlikely defeat in Norfolk. Moyes' men had looked comfortable throughout, and led for the bulk of the match thanks to Leon Osman's first-half header.
The loss leaves them six points behind Tottenham in fourth place, and looking over their shoulder at the likes of West Brom and Liverpool. Moyes admits their chances of securing Champions League football next season are fading fast.
“It is one game out of 11 or 12 that we had before today, so there is still chances for us to do it,” he said. “But we are going to have to be very good to do it.
“All defeats are hard to take, but this one is hard because we should have been good enough to see it out. If we have any real ambitions then we've got to make sure that we win that game.
“Or if the worst happens, then we should see out a draw. I think we were unfairly dealt with today, though we should still deal with it ourselves.”
Moyes was critical of referee Lee Mason's decision to allow the game to run to a fourth minute of added time. Holt's winner arrived 16 seconds after the allotted three minutes, though that figure is issued to referees only as a minimum guideline. Referees have the discretion to add on extra time if they feel it necessary.
“I can't understand why he plays three minutes 20 seconds for the goal,” said Moyes. “If you add on three minutes' added time for 45 minutes in the second half, then I think 20 seconds sounds like a big percentage to add on top of that.
“He's got discretion to do what he likes, but I disagree with his discretion today.
“He didn't give any explanation. It's his discretion isn't it? But they can make up anything from that, can't they? I disagree with his discretion on this occasion.”
Moyes also believed his side should have capitalised on the advantage given to them by Osman's goal, but said their play in the final third was not good enough.
“In the second half we were wasteful,” he said. “We had opportunities to score a second and a third goal, but we didn't, and we were always going to be put under pressure at the end.
“We controlled the game, we passed it well enough and tried to do the right things, but we weren't good enough in the final third.
“But one thing is for sure, we didn't deserve to lose the game. That's a given.”
Everton were distraught after losing a game they had dominated.
David Moyes’ men lost ground in the race for fourth place, falling five points off the pace.
And Toffees striker Steven Naismith conceded: “It’s tough to take but we just have to move on.
“We knew it was going to be difficult coming to Norwich but we felt we were in control.
“But we’ve let in a few late goals recently, though the manager was more disappointed that we didn’t create much or have too many shots.
“We know we should have worked their keeper much more than we did.
“We started the season well but we aren’t playing as well now, even though we have managed to grind out a few results.
“I don’t know if it’s down to tiredness – we are professionals and have to go out there and do our jobs.”
David Moyes accused referees of “picking on” Marouane Fellaini after this damaging defeat and claimed his Everton midfielder does not receive the protection he deserves.
The Scot was furious after more dropped points, which cast doubt over both his future and Fellaini’s. Both men have ambitions of Champions League football but, if Tottenham defeat West Ham on Monday night, Everton will be nine points adrift of fourth place.
Fellaini, who remains interested in a move to Chelsea, expressed his frustration at English referees before this match. The midfielder was in the wars again here, particularly when he was kicked by Bradley Johnson, leading to his leg bleeding, but referee Lee Mason took no action.
The Belgian meted out his own punishment by striking Johnson seconds later, then showed the referee his cut leg. It was an uncomfortable reminder of the Stoke City game in which Fellaini became frustrated by the way he was being challenged, ultimately leading to him losing his cool and being banned for butting Ryan Shawcross.
“I don’t think Fellaini ever gets the protection he deserves,” Moyes said. “I think he’s picked on quite regularly because he’s noticeable.”
Moyes was also angry at full time, confronting the referee and refusing to shake his hand, after 20 seconds more than the allocated three minutes of added time were allowed. In those additional seconds, Norwich scored their winner.
It means that Tuesday night’s FA Cup replay against Oldham, and a potential home quarter-final against Wigan, take on added significance. With question marks remaining over Moyes’s own future at Everton, he has made it clear that reaching the top four or winning the FA Cup is his desire to help match his ambitions.
Familiar failings undid Everton here. Midfielder Steven Naismith explained: “We have lost a few late goals from balls into the box and we should have worked the goalie a bit more.”
Norwich tested Everton physically and their two late goals, in reply to Leon Osman’s first-half header, came due to their aerial threat. Kei Kamara headed in the equaliser from a Robert Snodgrass corner then, with Everton noticeably dropping deeper, Sébastien Bassong nodded down a high ball for Grant Holt to stab in the winner.
In the build-up to the game, manager Chris Hughton had denied falling out with Holt. After scoring his winner, Holt added: “There are a lot of things being said about us not being as lively as last year as a group, or whatever, but that’s a load of rubbish.”
Newcomer Kamara has certainly settled well, becoming the first man from Sierra Leone to score in the Premier League.