Everton skipper Phil Neville expects tough test at Norwich City
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Everton skipper Phil Neville rates Carrow Road one of the hardest places to visit in the Premier League – but insists he and his team-mates must recapture the winning habit sooner rather than later if they are to play in Europe next season.
The Toffees visit Norwich City on Saturday (3pm), looking to regain momentum after just one win in five league matches.
But the veteran Neville believes the Canaries will make life difficult for them and, despite not recording a win in their last nine Premier League games, says they have the potential to become a top-half team.
He said: “I’d say Norwich is one of the tougher away games. They gave us a good game there last year and this season they got a well-deserved point at Goodison.
“Chris Hughton has built a good solid young team. Norwich are now stabilising themselves in the Premier League, and if they stay up they can start to grow and maybe achieve what Stoke have in being a top 10 team.”
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Everton are six points adrift of the Champions League places and two points and one place behind fifth-placed Arsenal, who occupy the one guaranteed Europa League qualification spot.
Sixth place may be enough for a European spot, depending on who contests the FA Cup final, with Everton’s hopes of reaching Wembley still alive as they prepare for a fifth round replay at home to League One strugglers Oldham Athletic.
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And 36-year-old Neville says they are ready to shake off the effects of any lingering New Year hangover as they prepare to take on Norwich, with whom they have drawn their last three meetings.
“We need to start winning games,” he said. “Now is the time that we will start hitting form.
“If you look at all the teams in the Premier League, I don’t think anyone is flowing or playing the type of stylish football they did before Christmas.
“It happens every year. January and February are those months where you have to slug it out. You come out of the Christmas period where you have played so many games in a short space of time, and there’s almost a lull where the pitches are bad and the weather is freezing cold and players are maybe fatigued.
“But it’s now when the nights start to get lighter and the weather turns and you have a bit of blue sky and sunshine in training and you see teams hitting form again.”
Former England international Neville told the Daily Post: “We are chasing a European place and have a massive carrot in front of us in terms of the next two months.
“We have 12 games left in the league and we want to be in Europe, and that means we have to start winning games.”
Everton’s FA Cup replay against Oldham Athletic will be played next Tuesday at Goodison Park and screened live on ITV.
If they win, last season’s beaten semi-finalists will play host to Wigan in the quarter-finals on March 9.