Everton manager Roberto Martinez insists it is unfair for critics to claim his team are underachieving as they are still a work in progress.
The Toffees lost 4-3 to Manchester City on aggregate in their League Cup semi-final tie, which concluded at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
That leaves the FA Cup – where Everton travel to play Carlisle United in the fourth round on Sunday – as the club’s only realistic trophy opportunity this season.
Everton have disappointed in the Premier League and sit 12th in the table having won only one of their last 10 top-flight matches, but Martinez thinks it is too early to make any judgements on his squad.
“You cannot be underachieving when this team is new,” Martinez said.
“This team has been formed over the last two-and-a-half years and we are developing something that is going to be very powerful for the future.
“That process is not going to be overnight or straightforward. You need to go through painful experiences to develop the know-how of a winning team.
“In my eyes we have one of the most competitive squads in the league with four or five players with the best potential in Europe and that has been down to a clear strategy.
“We have achieved this squad not having the blank cheque of £500m, which other clubs have had to become a competitive team overnight.”
Martinez thinks Everton are not far from challenging for a Champions League place and revealed he was happy to take criticism for his team’s lack of recent wins.
“It would be very easy for us to say we can’t really compete against the top four, accept where we are and fight every short-term target,” he said.
“But we have an overall approach of wanting to get into the top four and we are showing signs we are starting to do that.
“As a manager you need to accept that we need to get wins. I will never come out with excuses and try to justify lack of wins.
“I feel we are close to getting what the fans deserve but I will accept any criticism and I will be the one fronting that. I share their frustrations at a lack of wins, but I am the first one who has a strong belief we will be successful at the end of it.”
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