Mason Holgate says Everton must learn to unpick counter-attacking opponents, or risk missing out on their European goal.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team have overcome a succession of Premier League high-flyers this term but been hamstrung by poor results in games they were fancied to win.
Everton were poised to make a dent in the gap to the top-four positions when they led Crystal Palace deep into Monday’s game at Goodison Park.
An equaliser with four minutes remaining, however, meant two points slipped by – and, in Holgate’s view, encapsulated precisely why his side needs to discover a ruthless streak.
Do that, insists the defender, and the sky is the limit for an Everton team that is “worlds apart” from the one manager Ancelotti began working with 15 months ago.
“As it stands, European qualification is in our hands,” said Holgate, whose team began the weekend with a game in hand on all seven sides above them and go to Brighton & Hove Albion on Monday.
“It [fortunes against bottom-half opposition] is not to do with home form, it is consistency against teams who don’t come out so much against us, when it is down to us to score goals.
“That is where we’ve not done as well as we’d have liked – we’ve not blown teams away and that leaves the door open.
“If it is still 1-0 [as against Palace] the opposition have a chance, it is the Premier League, every team has the quality to score a goal.
“The game should have been dead and buried.
“We have a young squad and it is the first time since I’ve been here we’ve had the confidence to go out and beat the big teams.
“Now we have that, we need to break down the other sides and kill games.
“We can only do that through learning.
“But where we are compared to where we were [when Ancelotti took over in December 2019] is worlds apart.
"The Club is progressing and European football is the next step, then we want to push on and see what we can achieve."
Everton fleetingly occupied fourth place last month after beating West Bromwich Albion for a third successive victory.
The following three games, however, have yielded a solitary point – heightening the importance of a meeting with a Brighton team aiming to safeguard its Premier League future.
“They have picked up some good results recently and are a very good team” said Holgate, who is in his sixth Goodison Park season.
“They play great football and by no means can you say they look a bottom-half-of-the-table side; the way they play and dominate possession.
“It is going to be a difficult game.
“But if we don’t win, then don’t achieve our goals at the end of the season, it is another game we’d look back on and think, ‘We dropped points there’.”
Brighton were among Everton’s victims when Ancelotti’s side embarked on a flawless beginning to the campaign, winning seven straight games in all competitions.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin opened the scoring in Everton’s 4-2 victory, as the striker raced to 10 goals in his first six starts this term.
Calvert-Lewin goes to Brighton aiming for his 20th club goal of the season – to add to four strikes in seven England appearances following a senior debut back in October.
“To see him play and score for England is great,” added Holgate, who first encountered fellow 24-year-old Calvert-Lewin as an opponent roughly 17 years ago.
“He works hard, he’s fast and strong and can jump and is a big threat.
“Now he’s added more goals to his game, people are starting to notice those other qualities.
“It looks like he is a different player. He’s always been that kind of player but not had the goals for people to pay attention.
“He was very good in his first few years here, but, honestly, he has taken his game to another level.
“I knew he was going to be a good player and could be our main striker.
“But the quality he has shown this season… is on a completely different level from before.
“I am buzzing he is being recognised as a great striker because he is one.”