Wayne Rooney has hailed the influence of manager Sam Allardyce in helping Everton climb the Premier League table - as the forward reiterated his determination to achieve success with his boyhood club.
The Toffees are currently just two points behind seventh-placed Burnley, having been two points above the relegation zone when Allardyce watched from the Goodison Park stands when Rooney hit a hat-trick against West Ham United in a 4-0 victory the day before his appointment in late November.
Key to Everton’s improved position has been their home form - the Blues have collected 17 points from the 24 available during that time.
Rooney is now targeting an improvement in away results – starting at Watford on Saturday.
“We have obviously got better results since Sam came in,” said Rooney, who rejoined his boyhood club in the summer from Manchester United. “Our home form has been very good and it is now about whether we can sort out our away form.”
The 32-year-old acknowledges the work of Allardyce and his backroom staff has been a key factor in the side’s improved defensive displays, with the team now looking up the table.
“At the start to the season, the fixtures were very tough,” said Rooney. “We were conceding too many goals. It was my first few games back [following his summer transfer from Manchester United] and it was tough to put my finger on why that was happening.
“We had to get it together quickly or otherwise we would have been fighting relegation - and it would have been tough to get out of that.”
Since returning to Goodison Park in the summer, Rooney has hit 11 goals for the Toffees in all competitions, and is the Club’s top goalscorer.
The Academy graduate says he had options to move abroad after leaving Manchester United, but was desperate to return to the Club he grew up supporting - and help the Blues win trophies in the future.
"I knew that coming back to Everton was more pressure - that's what I wanted,” said England's all-time top scorer, who first played for the Blues' first team between 2002-04. “I wanted to prove myself again to the Everton fans and to try to help this club move forward and win silverware.
"I think it was the perfect fit for me and hopefully in the next two or three years we can do that."
While Rooney has proved his goalscoring abilities this season, he has recently impressed in a deeper role, and believes this is where Evertonians will see the best of him in the coming years.
He says adapting his game will be key to achieving longevity, and will allow him to realise his long-term ambitions with the Toffees.
"The one thing which stays is my attitude to playing, my attitude to win, but of course you change and adapt your game and that's what I feel I've done over the last few years," he said.
"Two years ago, I thought my best position to play was midfield, and that's starting to happen now."
In adapting to a new position, Rooney has showcased his significant football intelligence. These qualities were also evident when he recently as appeared as a pundit on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football. His insight, knowledge and humour meant the record England goalscorer was a unanimous hit.
“What people see on the pitch... they don't see your qualities as a person,” he said. “To have knowledge about football you have to learn it. How do you get better? How do you move forward? If you want to get into management, you only get better by studying."
While Rooney is relishing the pressure of playing a key role for his beloved Blues, he revealed it’s not just the manager and his coaching staff who demand his standards remain sky-high. He joked that his eldest son Kai is his biggest critic.
"If you don't play well, he'll remind you of it - if I don't have a good game, he's the first to tell me," he said. "He's obsessed with his football, he goes to play every night of the week after school."