David Moyes believes Everton's hopes of European qualification rest on Nikica Jelavic rediscovering the form that made him appear a £5.5m bargain following his arrival from Rangers last year.
The Croatia international has struggled to recapture his goalscoring touch for Everton this season, scoring seven times in 29 appearances for the club compared to 11 in the final 14 outings of the last campaign. Moyes dropped Jelavic for three games recently, favouring Victor Anichebe who is an injury doubt for Saturday's trip to Norwich City, but insists he has identified signs of a recovery in the striker. He admits the 27-year-old's goals will be essential for Everton to rekindle their challenge for a top four finish.
"Undoubtedly he can be the difference for us between now and the end of the season," said Moyes, who restored Jelavic to the starting lineup in the FA Cup at Oldham Athletic last weekend. "I think that if he fires and scores we can have a really strong end to the season.
"Ultimately if he doesn't then you know it could be hard going between now and the end, we are going to have to keep grinding results out and plugging away. This time last year nearly everything he touched went into the net. I do think that you need your forward to be in good form and we hope we can get him back into some level of where we was before. We are not playing that badly, we just need someone to finish it. Hopefully Nikica will do that."
The Everton manager admits he does not have a clear explanation for Jelavic's loss of form. "I don't really have any great thought on it. I just hope he can find his way again," said Moyes. "It is always confidence in things like this but sometimes you don't realise that until you come back into form. How we finish the season will have a lot to do with how Nikica Jelavic performs and scores."
Jelavic missed a good opportunity to put Everton into a 3-1 lead at Oldham last Saturday, the game eventually finishing 2-2, but Moyes believes the striker showed overall improvement on his return to the team.
Moyes, who also feels Kevin Mirallas is yet to return to form following injury, added: "We are encouraging Nikica. He is a great lad around the place, a pleasure to work with. He is liked by everybody, he is top boy, he really is. He missed a few games to see whether he needed a breather and I think he is showing signs again.
"He missed a couple against Oldham but in a way that was a good sign because he hadn't had many chances recently. From that point of view it was a good sign that he was beginning to get in the positions again and have chances to score."