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Sun 10 Feb 2008 07:27 AM

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Everton belief growing

Everton manager admits players have begun to believe that they can return to the Champions League.

Everton manager David Moyes admitted that his players have begun to believe that they can secure a return to the Champions League by clinching fourth place in the Premier League.

Phil Jagielka's second-half header sealed a 1-0 victory against Reading at Goodison Park on Saturday to leave Moyes's team three points clear of fifth-placed Aston Villa.

It also extended their advantage over Merseyside rivals Liverpool, who were due to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

Everton defied the odds to clinch a top four finish in the 2004-05 season and, despite moving to within seven points of third-placed Chelsea, Moyes insists that the club are concentrating solely on keeping ahead of their rivals.

Moyes said: "We can only look after our own business. The battle for places around us is very tough, but all we can do is keep winning our games."Chelsea are too strong for us to think about catching them and finishing even higher in the league, but we obviously want to finish as high as we can."

"I wouldn't turn third place down, but we have to be realistic and know that we face a big enough challenge as it is to stay ahead of the rest of those teams around us in the table."

Moyes controversially left Nigerian striker Aiyegbeni Yakubu out of his squad for the hard-fought victory over Reading following the 11.25-million-pound club record signing's late return from the African Nations Cup.

The former Middlesbrough forward had been due to report back on Wednesday following Nigeria's elimination last Sunday, but he only returned to the club on Friday and Moyes admits that Yakubu's punishment may extend to the UEFA Cup clash against Brann in Norway on Wednesday.

Moyes said: "I don't know whether missing this game will be the end of Yakubu's punishment. I have not decided on that yet."But James Vaughan was excellent for us when he came on in the second-half and he has a brilliant attitude."

"He has grown physically and he is getting quicker and quicker and he made an impression when he came on."

"It was an ugly win, but I have told the players that I want us to play well and we need to play better than that. However, Reading drew at Manchester United earlier this season and only lost narrowly at Chelsea, so this was never going to be an easy game."

Defeat for Reading sent Steve Coppell's team into the bottom three to heighten relegation fears for the club, but Coppell insists that he still has faith in his team's ability to escape the drop.

Coppell said: "I felt that we deserved something from the game, but I say that every week, even when we are rubbish!

"If you ask me whether I am confident that we will still be in the Premiership next season, I will say yes. Very confident? Confidence is confidence and I am confident."

"That was as good a performance as we have had away from home, though, and we showed better quality. I also think that Marek Matejovsky has given us an injection in our play and I hope that his level of performances rubs off on the other lads."

Everton's performance lacked their usual energy although that was no surprise with key midfielder Tim Cahill, playing in an advanced role just behind lone striker Andy Johnson, looking trained after a midweek round-trip to Australia for his country's World Cup qualifying win over Qatar.

But they finally unlocked Reading when Leon Osman when he crossed for Jagielka to head in his first league goal for the club.

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