Ahead of Everton's crucial season finale against Bournemouth on Sunday, James Tarkowski, who is the only outfield player to have played every minute in the Premier League so far in 2022/23, gives an honest verdict on the campaign to date, his first season as a Blue, and how the players have been preparing this week knowing a win will guarantee their top-flight status for next term...
James, looking ahead to Sunday, how much of a boost has that 99th-minute equaliser at Wolves been for morale this week?
Of course, the point could be very important at the end of it but the feeling of it, too. There's been a good feeling in camp and we're all excited for the game to come around this weekend.
How much of it is mental at this stage?
I think pretty much all of it, to be honest. We're all physically ready to go. We're ready to get out there but we need to be patient and prepare for the game right to make sure we're at our best for Sunday.
It is in our hands going to the weekend - win and we know it will be enough...
That's it and that's what we wanted. I've not focused on other teams too much. Obviously, you see the results but then people try to paint pictures in certain ways. Ultimately, it's in our hands. We're in the better position of the three teams down there. We know we need to win and that's all we focus on.
Does that clarity help?
It takes away any temptation to looking over at other teams or hoping someone can do you a favour. It's all about the job we do - how we prepare and how we play. We don't need to be worrying about anyone else.
You've been in battles to avoid relegation in the past. Does that help in this situation?
I think all experience - positive and negative - helps. I'm remaining calm about the situation. Getting overly emotional or worrying about the game isn't going to help anything. That goes for before the game and during it.
Is that the manager's message to the players as well?
If you see the manager he's walking around singing! He's calm and relaxed. That's just the way he is and I think that rubs off on us in a good way.
The manager has mentioned not getting too high after good moments and not getting too low after difficult moments. Do you feel that consistency and how much does that help the squad?
It definitely rubs off on you. We've won some big games, for example the Brighton game and he remained very calm; then we've been beaten in other games and he's remained very calm. Not getting too high or low is very important. It's definitely helped me and I'm sure it has with everyone else, too. He's got a way of delivering messages on the training pitch and around the place. You soak them up, take them in and it ends up becoming a mindset.
Which of his messages do you think will be most important ahead of this weekend?
The manager has got a list of team beliefs, which are good. 'Be relentless' is one of the big ones and 'The minimum requirement is maximum effort' is another he loves. Then there are a few I can't repeat!
Looking at the opposition - Bournemouth are the visitors at Goodison. They haven't got a lot to play for heading into the game but that means the pressure is off. What do you think they will bring?
It can always bring a dangerous team when you say the pressure is off. It gives you a freedom that can allow you to play well. We'll be expecting the best Bournemouth. I think they've had an incredible season and I'm expecting a tough game.
We had a tough week with two games in a week there earlier in the season. Does that add extra motivation?
That was a real low point for us. It was a time we wanted to go out on a real positive week so I think it hurt even more. But this is a different team now, a different situation and we're in a completely different place and we're focused on getting a different result.
What's this year been like for you?
It's been tough. I have enjoyed it, for sure, signing for a Club like this is incredible and it's been a great experience - but in terms of football on the pitch it's been really tough. I just want to get the job done this weekend, then hit a refresh button going into next season and look for better outcomes.
You are the only outfield player who has played every minute in the Premier League this season. That's an impressive stat?
I just love playing football and the fact that I've got to play every minute of every game so far is great. I've spent a bit of time out of the team at other clubs in the past but I want to play as much as I possibly can. It's what I love, it's what I enjoy doing.
Does that give you the best perspective, then, in terms of the issues we've had this season?
I think it's clear to see we've not had enough good performances. There hasn't been enough consistency to our play. We've been in unfortunate at times but all teams go through periods like that and we have to deal with those times better.
There have been stand-out moments and games, though. Under the new manager, beating then-league leaders Arsenal in the first game then winning 5-1 at Brighton which hasn't happened to anyone else. How do you explain that?
It shows we're fully capable of going out and performing against the best teams. You mention Brighton - I think they're one of the hardest teams to play against in the league. It shows we're capable and if we can get that consistency right we can be a real good side. For now, the focus is just on this weekend and showing that level of performance we know we're capable of. There have been other games as well, a couple of good 1-0 home wins over teams like Brentford, who were on a great run. We're more than capable and we need to produce another one of those performances on Sunday.
Finally, I think we all know it's going to be another big atmosphere at Goodison Park. How much of a benefit is it to be playing at home?
The fans are incredible home and away. But it's a benefit to be playing at home, where we know the fans will be behind us. Their impact is massive - it can change a game, it can turn a game. Even on something as minor as winning a throw-in high up the pitch and that roar comes... it can really change the flow of the game. We're going to need them this weekend and Bournemouth aren't going to just roll over for us, but I know they'll turn up because they always do. They'll be ready to go, just like we will be.