LONDON (SE) - David Moyes has Everton surprisingly in the top four of the Premier League, and their seemingly favourable fixture list gives them a chance to improve further on that lofty status.
The Toffees look to begin capitalizing on their schedule by continuing their utter dominance of Sunderland on Saturday at Goodison Park.
Moyes is considered one of the best managers in the Premier League, and his work with Everton (4-5-1) this season only reinforces that distinction.
After finishing seventh in the league last season, the Toffees are tied with West Brom for fourth, sitting five points back of third-place Manchester City.
Everton are faced with a key three-match stretch that could cut that gap or move them past the reigning league champions.
After hosting Sunderland (1-6-2), the Blues visit Reading next week before concluding the stretch at home versus Norwich City.
Putting together wins is even more important after Everton drew their fourth match in a row last weekend, 2-2 at Fulham.
They haven't drawn five matches in a row since the 1976-77 season.
"I think if we want to hold on to our current spot in the league, it's very important we convert these draws into wins," midfielder Kevin Mirallas told the team's official website. "It's ultra important we get a win this weekend and get those three points against Sunderland.
"We need to pick up the three points at all costs because after that we've got some difficult games, a tough run. If we want to stay up there fighting at the top of the table, these are the sort of games where we need to get all the points."
Picking up points against the Black Cats tends to be routine. Everton are unbeaten in 17 meetings (12-5-0) with Sunderland since Moyes was installed as manager in 2002.
That dominance includes outscoring them 35-9 overall, and 24-5 while going 7-2-0 at Goodison Park. Everton cruised to a 4-0 victory in the most recent matchup there on April 9.
Marouane Fellaini has two goals in eight career meetings with Sunderland, but he's coming off a two-goal performance against Fulham.
The midfielder leads the team with seven goals, two more than he had all of last season.
"We know he's a really vital player for us and let's hope this excellent form continues," Mirallas said of his international teammate with Belgium. "It's four years now that he's been here, and I think in that time you can see how much he's come on as a player."
Sunderland are tied with Stoke City and Aston Villa for 15th in the table, four points ahead of the drop zone. Their recent play isn't likely to inspire confidence of getting their first win at Goodison Park since November 1996.
They're mired in an 0-2-3 stretch that includes being outscored 6-1 after falling 1-0 at home to Aston Villa last weekend.
"Now is when character comes out and I think we have big characters inside the dressing room," defender Carlos Cuellar told the team's official website. "We are going to be alright. We can't put our heads down. It is a long season, this is just the beginning and we have to keep working.
"Confidence isn't going down. We know who we are whether we win or lose."
Sunderland's six goals on the season are the fewest in the Premier League.