Demarai Gray says Everton must urgently summon the quality to match the fight and spirit shown in Saturday’s Premier League defeat by Aston Villa.
Forward Gray was at the vanguard of his side’s second-half attempt to rescue something from the game following the hammer blow of a goal for Villa’s Emiliano Buendia moments before half-time.
The 25-year-old nevertheless accepted that Everton were short of the finesse to prise open a compact away team intent on protecting their advantage.
Everton, under the caretaker charge of Duncan Ferguson, remain 16th in the standings and must wait more than a fortnight for a chance to start playing catch-up on the sides above them.
A game at Newcastle United on 8 February – three days after an FA Cup meeting with Brentford – is quickly followed by a visit from Leeds United.
"I think we showed good fight [against Villa] and we worked hard throughout the week,” began Gray.
"The energy was there, we can't fault our spirit or determination, but we lacked the quality. We've got to keep working on it and, hopefully, we'll start picking up points.
"We know the position we are in. It is difficult for the players and for the fans and for the Club, in general.
"As a group, it's obviously not a good feeling. But we have no excuses and need to dig deep.
"We have the quality in the squad but need to start to show it.”
Everton grew as an offensive force in the second 45 minutes against Aston Villa, with Gray and substitute Anthony Gordon influential on the wings.
Gray, who has six goals this term, attempted three shots and supplied four crosses and one key pass.
He couldn’t extend Emiliano Martinez, however, the Aston Villa goalkeeper whose only save came from a close-range Ben Godfrey header.
Gordon was sent on 11 minutes after the break and duly sent over 10 crosses, notably creating chances for Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin that were directed off target.
Gray’s insistence that Everton have to sharpen up in the final third is understandable, therefore.
Equally, the former Bayer Leverkusen player pointed to the habit of conceding first as an issue that needs addressing fast.
Buendia’s headed effort in first-half stoppage time marked a ninth straight Premier League game when Everton let-in the opening goal.
"It's something we have to work on, it's not ideal conceding just before half-time, and from another set-piece, as well,” said Gray.
"We'd defended well until conceding.
“It was a setback. We regrouped in the second half but just couldn't get the goal.
"I thought we showed the desire and the fight but it just wasn't to be.
"We lacked a bit of quality in the final third – personally, I lacked the quality.
"We are disappointed to lose again. We have to stick together and take accountability and make sure we put things right."