Everton would be champions of England and Europe if teams were judged on spirit alone, according to manager David Moyes.
The Scot has been delighted with the form his injury-ravaged side have maintained in recent months, and they take a record of just one league defeat in 11 to Blackburn tonight, intent on making further progress up the Premier League table.
Moyes refuses to give up on qualifying for the Champions League, and wants to improve on Everton's current sixth spot, which will ensure their participation in the Europa League, next season's rebranded Uefa Cup.
He will now be without full-back Tony Hibbert for a month with a thigh injury to add to the loss of half his first-choice side over recent months.
But Everton have not been outside the top six since Christmas, and Moyes said: "The players have been terrific. We have got through a difficult few weeks with problems over injuries and maintained our position in the table.
"I still believe fourth place is up for grabs, it will be hard to catch Aston Villa with them eight points ahead of us, but it is not something we will give up on. We are sixth at the moment, and that means a European spot now after Manchester United's [Carling Cup final] win at Wembley on Sunday.
"But I am looking much higher than that, it will be a tall order but not out of reach. If we can maintain our form of the last three months, we will not be far short of fourth or fifth." He added: "We can still push Villa hard but it is a tough one and they are in pole position. There is a great character among the players. We have not accepted that because we are losing players through injuries that it is the end of the world and we can't win games.
"But we have not talked much about those who are out, it has galvanised us to a certain extent. We miss them and hope they recover quickly, but if they were fit and others out, they would expect me to do the same job."
Midfielder Mikel Arteta, who injured his knee in the 1-0 defeat at Newcastle last month, underwent an operation yesterday, while striker Victor Anichebe will also visit a surgeon later this week for a further examination on his knee injury. Moyes said: "Mikel could well now miss the beginning of next season, I do not expect to have him for the first month."
Arteta and Anichebe have been added to the long-term injury list of Ayegbeni Yakubu, James Vaughan and Nuno Valente. Moyes believes his team have been drawn together by adversity. He said: "The players deserve the credit. If it was team spirit it was based on, Everton would be top of the league and probably European champions too.
"I gauge my players on what they give up for the team. We like solo stars who make things happen, but we love people who work for the team and their team-mates. That is what breeds spirit. We have self-belief, and the players know they are good now and want to demonstrate that.
"Managers have a part to play, but it is the ones who go out on the pitch who have to do it... If I did not turn up, I would expect them to get the right result because I trust them and they know what I want. They could get a result now without me."Reuse content