Michael Keane says complete faith in the methods of Carlo Ancelotti is responsible for creating Everton’s “strong mindset” – and underpinning a sustained pursuit of European football.
Defender Keane capped his latest imperious display with the winning goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday.
Everton’s fifth win in six Premier League matches moved them within four points of leaders Manchester United.
Manager Ancelotti deployed James Rodriguez and Gylfi Sigurdsson up front at Wolves, with the left-midfield position occupied by Lucas Digne.
The Italian’s tactical manoeuvring caught Wolves off-guard and, revealed Keane, Everton’s players didn’t learn of the ploy until late in the day.
Keane headed home after Ruben Neves’ goal levelled Alex Iwobi’s sixth-minute opener – ensuring Ancelotti’s side provided an instant response to the New Year’s Day defeat by West Ham United.
“We didn’t know until a couple of hours before the game that we would be playing that formation,” Keane told evertontv.
“That flexibility, with players moving to different positions, shows the manager’s experience and that he knows what is best.
“We have 100-per-cent trust in him and when it gives us results like the one on Tuesday that trusts grows.
“Everyone was gutted to not get anything against West Ham – but that is where our mentality has changed.
“We have a strong mindset and know we have to bounce back quickly after disappointing results.
“It is the same if we concede a goal, we need to react the way we did at Wolves.
“Winning doesn’t make up for West Ham because we are setting ourselves high standards.
“But Wolves is a tough place to go and getting that result makes us feel good and will grow belief even further.”
Keane grabbed the headlines from Everton’s midweek victory after meeting Andre Gomes’ searching cross with a powerful header, placed inside helpless goalkeeper Rui Patricio’s right post.
It was a third Premier League goal of the season for the centre-half.
Even more satisfying for Keane, who turned 28 on Monday, is Everton’s miserly defensive record of late.
The goal Neves scored for Wolves was only the fourth conceded by Ancelotti’s side in seven league matches.
Everton’s solidity is all the more impressive for the makeshift nature of a backline which, counter-intuitively, represented the most familiar element of the line-up for Wolves.
Ancelotti has obtained the improved resolve he wanted by employing Mason Holgate and Ben Godfrey, both ordinarily centre-halves, in the full-back positions.
Keane and Yerry Mina in the middle, meanwhile, have formed an outstanding partnership.
“There is a good mix of experience and youth, we have pace and players who are good in the air, so it is a back four with a bit of everything,” said Keane, who has started all but one of Everton's 22 competitive games this term.
“We gain confidence from the defensive performances we’ve had.
“Wolves scored one and we could probably have done a bit better on the second phase of a set play [Neves scored after the ball was returned into the box when a free-kick was partially cleared].
“But we were solid again.
“Lads have come in and played other games and been just as good as those playing now.
“It is really important the full squad are involved and that is what we have.
“We didn’t have time to work on our game plan for Wolves and I thought the lads were brilliant.
“We got the early goal, then conceded, but reacted well and controlled the game for large parts and took our chances when they came.”
On netting the clinching goal 24 hours after his birthday, Keane added: “It was a nice late present
“It is a special feeling when you score, especially when it is a winner.
“I was in a hotel on my birthday so couldn’t do much
“The best way to celebrate was by scoring and winning.”