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JOHN HEITINGA insists his self-belief has not been dented during a difficult period in his Everton FC career.
The Dutch defender produced a vastly-improved performance during Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Manchester City, and spoke afterwards about his desire to help Everton qualify for Europe.
Heitinga, 29, had previously taken to Twitter in recent weeks to publicly acknowledge his individual errors, and apologise to supporters.
Although he has not taken the criticism he subsequently received to heart, the former Ajax and Athletico Madrid centre-back fears that over-the-top attacks on players could lead to a future when they are reluctant to engage with fans over the social networking site.
He said: “I don't really care what people say. I'm on Twitter because I want to show a little bit of myself to the supporters. I hope to get respect when I put something on Twitter, and see people react positively.
“If the response is only negative, then the time will come when no-one is on Twitter any more. The gap between the fans will become bigger.
“At the moment, the gap can become smaller because you can respond to supporters' questions and speak to them.
“I can understand the fans were frustrated (after Wigan) but they must realise that the players were frustrated too.”
Heitinga was thrilled by Everton’s performance against the reigning Premier League champions, which lifted the Toffees to sixth in the table.
And he reserved particular praise for stand-in goalkeeper Jan Mucha, who ably deputised for injured number-one Tim Howard during the victory.
“Tim is the number one goalie, and it has been hard for Jan,” he added. “He is a great professional who trains really well.
“I have been a bit disappointed for him because he has never had a chance. I'm happy for him that he has been able to play a couple of games.
“Tim will be back soon, but it is good for Jan that he can show everyone that he is a good keeper.
Meanwhile, Seamus Coleman says the triumph over Roberto Mancini’s side showed the real Everton are back.
“I think we showed what we are all about,” he said.
EVERTON teenage starlet Matthew Kennedy wants to cap off a memorable first season at Goodison by breaking into David Moyes’s first team.
The 18-year-old winger has been involved across three Blues squads, playing regularly for the Under-18s and Under-21s, as well as featuring on the bench for the first team on two occasions.
And after a whirlwind seven months since his switch from Kilmarnock, the talented wide man has revealed the two targets assistant manager Steve Round has challenged him to tick off by May.
He said: “Steve wants me to achieve two things this season – win the FA Youth Cup and make my debut for the Everton first team.
“They are two massive goals but I definitely think they are achievable.”
Kennedy will return to his hometown this week as Scotland Under-19s welcome Sweden to Somerset Park.
And he is thrilled at the prospect to show his compatriots his progress since moving to Merseyside.
“I’m excited to be back because hardly any of my friends and family have been able to watch me play at Everton,” he said.
“So, personally, it’s great the match is at Somerset Park. Everyone has been phoning and texting about it so hopefully a few of them will come along. Sweden have a good squad and this will be a good test for us. But we have a talented squad of players too and everyone gets on really well.”
Kennedy and Everton Under-18s will be looking to continue their quest for FA Youth Cup glory when they face Norwich City in the quarter-finals on Friday, April 5 at Goodison Park (kick-off 7pm). Check for ticket details in the coming days.
Stuart Pearce has tipped Phil Neville as being a potential candidate to replace him as England Under 21 head coach after appointing Everton’s captain to his coaching staff.
As revealed exclusively by Sportsmail, Neville will join the set-up this summer at the European Championships in Israel after holding discussions with Pearce at St George’s Park on Tuesday, and the 36-year-old described it as being a 'fantastic opportunity'.
His involvement is part of the Football Association’s attempts to give opportunities to young coaches and Pearce believes players like Neville and Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher have the credentials to inspire the generations that are coming through.
Having previously given Neville a brief chance to work with the Under 21s in February 2012, when he spent three days with squad before a qualifier against Belgium, Pearce is looking forward to working with him again.
‘The FA have had their eyes on him and want to push him on,’ said Pearce. ‘We want to encourage that. People of that ilk should not be on the outside. We should help the ex-players, people such as Phil and Jamie Carragher, who look like they could go on to be managers.
‘Phil’s going back into his club and will be asked what it’s like and he went back with a glowing talk on the Under 21 setup and that can only help us as well. We can showcase that and they can go back to the clubs. This isn’t my idea, it’s the FA’s. Phil will be the only addition to my staff.
‘It will give Phil the kick-start on his (coaching) career. From Phil’s point of view he still has the contacts from the playing side, he wants to be coach and not just say he’s a footballer and wants to be handed it. He’s got the right professional skills to be a very good coach.
‘I also think he’s got respect of players. Everyone will have heard him and played against him. He’s got a real enthusiasm, wants to be a coach and is a student of the game. It’s a volatile profession but if I look at any individual who can be a good coach or manager, Phil has those qualities.’
Neville added: ‘In tournament football you learn so much. You learn how to handle players in a different environment and how to get the best out of players. I have been to three major tournaments as a player and to now sample it on the other side will be a great chance.’
England’s Under 21s will step up their preparations for the tournament in Israel with games against Romania at Wycombe on Thursday night and against Austria in Brighton on Monday but Pearce will be without several key figures.
Steven Caulker has joined the senior squad, while Blackpool midfielder Tom Ince and Southampton left-back Luke Shaw have been forced to withdraw with injury.