Everton closing on elite, says Neville

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The Independent Football

The morning after the night before brought an all too familiar thought on Evertonian minds: will this club of modest resource ever crash through its glass ceiling? Despite a display on Wednesday night that warranted far more than a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat, the question was no less germane yesterday than when Chelsea convincingly saw off Everton's threat at Goodison in January's Carling Cup semi-final.

Phil Neville is biased of course but, as a player whose European experiences included six games in Manchester United's Champions League winning run of 1998-99, is worth listening to where Everton's development is concerned and he insisted yesterday that they simply need experience to win when it really matters.

"I remember in my first three years of European football with United I learnt something every year," he said. "That's the thing with playing in these competitions – you can't pick it up just by watching videos."

Those who contend Everton have plateaued will point to their habit of consistently beating their inferiors but succumbing against the elite. They have not beaten any of the sides above them in the Premier League this season. But Wednesday's display against Serie A's fourth-placed side provided a tantalising view of what might be ahead for David Moyes' side.

The next stage is believing that they belong in the elite. "In the first leg maybe we could have been a bit more bold and adventurous," said Neville. "Although we still have a bit to learn, I think we showed against Fiorentina that we're not far away."

It was left to Phil Jagielka to reflect on a factor no amount of experience can legislate against: a night on which Fiorentina's French goalkeeper Sebastien Frey was as charmed as he was superb. "Things just hit him," said Jagielka, who declared himself "numbed" by his penalty miss, Everton's second.

Everton, of course, do not have time to reflect on whether they can advance as a club. Up ahead now is a nine-match, head-to-head fight with Liverpool for the fourth Champions League spot and though the other lot are in marginal ascendancy, with a plus-10 goal difference on them, all that may have changed at around 5.45pm on Sunday 30 March, when the Anfield derby winds up.

Neville does not buy the idea that cup elimination buys teams precious resting time. "I'm not into all that," he said. But after seeing "tiredness creeping in" in the 1-0 win at Sunderland last Sunday, Everton may benefit. There is at least one certainty amid the gloom, which will take a few days to dissipate: beating Liverpool to that fourth place will atone for Wednesday's misdemeanours from the penalty spot.

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