Belfast Telegraph

Naismith: Europe a 'learning curve'

Forward Steven Naismith admits targeting a top-10 finish is not where Everton wanted to be in the final six weeks of the season but believes the experience of this campaign will prove vital in moving the club forward.

A return to European football was debilitating for their domestic form, but the Scotland international thinks the short-term pain will produce long-term gain.

The Toffees are currently on their best run in 12 months after a third successive Premier League victory - two of which have come following their exit from the last 16 of the Europa League.

To put it in perspective, Roberto Martinez's side won just six league matches up to mid-March, which briefly raised the spectre of relegation, but nine points in a row has lifted them to 11th place.

Their early-season problems means a top-10 finish is now the height of their ambitions when a year ago they were dreaming of qualifying for the Champions League.

"Last season we were fighting for fourth quite late in the season and we would ideally like to be doing that again but we've had the European campaign and that has been a learning curve," he told Press Association Sport at the club's annual open training event for fans at Goodison Park.

"To get the club to the next level you have to be able to maintain league and European form and we've not handled that as best we could this season but in the coming years hopefully we will be better for it.

"We've also had injuries to key players which have not helped as well so there are few things which have contributed but we will not use any of those as an excuse.

"Overall we have done well the last three weeks to get good results and it has put us in a much healthier position in the league and we can build on that in the coming weeks.

"The first goal has to be to get into the top half of the league and from there we will push on."

Around 4,000 fans were present at Goodison to watch Martinez put the squad - minus striker Romelu Lukaku who is still recovering from a hamstring injury sustained before the international break - through their paces in the 90-minute session.

Many of the crowd were school children taking advantage of the Easter break and Naismith said such events were vital in helping grow the next generation of supporters.

"It was nice to get on the Goodison pitch and it is a little bit different with it not being a weekend game and it gives us a chance to give the fans an insight into what we do week to week and see how intense training is," he added.

"It is massive for the kids. It is a totally different situation to coming on a match day when it is a bit more tense and there is more riding on it.

"This is more light-hearted and they can see what we work on and hopefully get the bug to come back and watch us week in, week out."


From Belfast Telegraph