'Players Have Steel In Their Eyes'
Steve Round confident Everton are ready for Wembley.
Everton's players have 'steel in their eyes' ahead of Saturday's FA Cup semi-final clash with Liverpool.
That is the view of assistant boss Steve Round, who has been impressed with what he has seen from the squad as they prepare for the Wembley encounter.
Jack Rodwell is the only injury absentee, while Steven Pienaar is the one other player definitely out of contention for the game as he is cup-tied.
And although Round admits Liverpool go into the game as the favourites, he is certain Everton will do everything in their power to prove the bookies wrong as they bid to earn their second Cup final appearance in four seasons.
He told evertonfc.com: "I don't think we feel that we're underdogs, but we do feel that Liverpool are probably just slight favourites. I think the gap's closed dramatically and we're almost on an even keel.
"Coupled that with our fans and the way they shout and cheer the team on - you only have to see them at Sunderland, they really were terrific - it means we're going down there confident and expecting to win. But I think Liverpool probably do just have the favouritism tag and I think the bookmakers would see it that way. But our boys have some steel in their eyes at the moment."
That steel has been apparent in the string of recent strong performances which has seen David Moyes' side lose only twice in the last 17 games in all competitions.
The four goals slotted past Sunderland on Easter Monday ensured the Blues have scored at least two goals in each of their last five games - a feat not achieved since 1996.
"We're playing well, scoring goals and we've got almost everybody fit," added Round. "I have seen the players step up more, but I don't think it was because the semi-final was in mind. I think it's just the momentum and confidence that's been building due to the results and the performances we've been giving. I do see the players improving week-in week-out. That can only be a good thing for us at the moment.
"You'd certainly rather be playing well than not. If you're playing well and winning, it does breed confidence in each other. Your team unity and cohesion is enhanced by that. I echo the manager's thoughts that a cup game is a one-off. It's an FA Cup fate game. There's been a lot of games decided by fate in that competition. That coupled with it being a derby and at Wembley, it's just on the day. There's a good saying that it's not always the best teams that win football matches, but it's usually the best team on the day. We have to make sure that on the day, we're the best team."
This semi-final comes three years after a famous penalty shoot-out victory over Manchester United. Round has fond memories of that Cup run and admits the experience will stand the Blues in good stead.
He continued: "The last semi-final we went to with Everton was an unbelievable occassion and our crowd were incredible. Absolutely incredible - I've never heard a noise like it. They got behind the team from start to finish. It was a great day. It's not as good a day as the final - unfortunately last time we couldn't win the final - but it's a prelude to that really.
"We've got a lot of players with a lot of experience; John Heitinga's played in a World Cup final and we've got players that have played in big games in big arenas on big occassions. That does stand you in good stead for sure. I've been to many semi-finals and a few finals so it does help having that experience and knowing what to expect. You're not going in there blind - you know you've got to play the game, not the occasion."
And if the occasion leads to stalemate after 120 minutes of football, Everton's players will be ready for the challenge of a shoot-out.
"We do practise penalties. It's been a trait ever since I've been here that whenever we go into a game that could be decided by penalties, we do practise and this would be no exception.
"You want to try to win it in the 90 minutes or the extra time. But if it does go to penalties, we'll be ready and we'll give it our best shot. It's something that we've been quite successful at over the years. If we had to step up and take them, I've got full confidence that the boys would deliver. Of course, we've got an excellent goalkeeper in Tim [Howard] who's so fast and so difficult to beat. He's got such a good record on penalties that it would make you confident.
"I'm hoping Merseyside does us all proud down there in London and we have a fantastic day out with a great occassion, great atmosphere and a cracking game. Everyone here is hoping that we're on the right end of it come the final result."