Everton's search for genuine pre-Wembley momentum goes on following a second successive away draw against a potential FA Cup Final opponent struggling for form.
Four days after the largely uninspiring but slightly improved display at Watford, the Blues made the trip to Selhurst Park to face a Crystal Palace side buoyed by their first victory of 2016 at the weekend.
The result was another patchy performance from Roberto Martinez's men, but the fact that they dug in to preserve a point after being reduced to 10 men following James McCarthy's dismissal five minutes into the second half will give the manager something, however small, to hang his hat on in terms of optimism ahead of two tough fixtures before the semi final in 10 days' time.
It was a long way from being the "incredible, incredible" feat that the manager described it as after the match but it at least proved that there is still some spirit and determination in this Everton team, even if the attacking fluidity and potency that has helped them rack up a +9 goal difference so far has largely deserted them.
In addition to the change in central defence enforced by Phil Jagielka's hamstring injury, Martinez took the opportunity to change things in attack by deploying Arouna Kone in what looked to be that awkward left-sided role in which he has been so ineffective. The Ivorian was preferred to Kevin Mirallas, that in spite of the Belgian's energetic late cameo at Vicarage Road but apart from one rasping shot that just cleared the Palace crossbar, the Blues' misfit No.9 offered little.
Equally ineffective was Romelu Lukaku, Everton's out-of-form and disinterested-looking Talisman who did little to advance his argument that he is deserving of playing in the Champions League come August. He has fed on scraps ever since his two-goal burst put the Toffees into the last four of the cup against Chelsea but he was offered more opportunity to be involved this evening but, like too many in a white jersey on the night, was wasteful with the ball and sloppy with it at his feet.
Nevertheless, having served up an early chance for Ross Barkley that was snuffed out by a wall of red and blue, he was in the right place at the right time when the Blues' No.20 returned the favour and played him in in the first half but he was foiled by Wayne Hennessey who was off his line smartly to close him down.
It was Seamus Coleman who had perhaps the best chance for Everton in the first half, though, when he was picked out by Leighton Baines with a cross to the back post but his side-foot volley was turned behind by the 'keeper.
At the other end, Palace had started well and seemed bent on testing John Stones and Ramiro Funes Mori with direct balls into the box but after Robles had denied Yannick Bolasie with a one-handed save, they couldn't maintain their early dominance and had to be satisfied with a fairly even, goalless first half.
Dwight Gayle went very close to breaking the deadlock in spectacular fashion, however, when he bicycle-kicked Joel Ward's header just wide and Funes Mori came disconcertingly close to putting into his own goal when he slid in to intercept Jason Puncheon's low cross.
If Everton could have mustered the kind of intensity and cohesion with which they despatched of Southampton and Stoke so easily, the game was there for the taking in the second half and they showed glimmers of promise in the first few minutes after the restart.
Coleman burst into the box and appeared to be tripped by Bolasie but scrambled to his feet before being his cross was blocked. His second attempt seemed to strike a defender's arm causing the away fans to bay for a penalty a second time but referee Mike Jones was unmoved.
From the same attack, however, the ball was moved to Barkley and he slammed a trademark shot off the crossbar from 20-plus yards.
The game changed shortly afterwards, though, when McCarthy, having been booked in the first half for catching Yohan Cabaye late, collided with Bolasie as the French winger tried to fly down the left wing and the referee made the predictable choice to flash him a second yellow card and send him for an early bath. Muhamed Besic was quickly brought on in place of Kone in the ensuing reorganisation.
As they were against West Ham when Mirallas found himself ordered off prematurely, Everton were briefly a lot better with 10 men than they had been with 11 and they pressed forward with purpose and almost went ahead from a corner but Stones could only plant a free header straight at Hennessey.
At other end, meanwhile, when Mile Jedinak put Puncheon in on goal but in a virtual carbon copy of Lukaku's chance in the first half, Robles charged off his line quickly to save well. The Spaniard followed that up with three more routine stops to foil Zaha, Puncheon and Cabaye before substitute Adebayor headed wide when he might have done better.
With Aaron Lennon having been forced off with an apparent hamstring strain midway through the half, Everton mostly lost their attacking impetus but had one promising three-man counter-attack that unfortunately ended with substitute Bryan Oviedo's low cross being cut out before it could reach Lukaku.
Palace, meanwhile, staged their own late assault with Conor Wickham missing two decent chances before Funes Mori belter from distance took a heavy deflection and almost outfoxed Hennessey before he scrambled to claim the loose ball.
So, in the context of a frustrating run of results, questionable morale in the camp and McCarthy's dismissal, it was a decent enough point that lifts the Blues into 12th place in the table even if it extended their winless run in the league to five games. Troubling question marks remain over the team's general play, however – even at full strength for 50 minutes this was several levels below the kind of showing that is expected from such a talented group and likely not the kind of display that will be enough to get past Manchester United in the semi-final.
Martinez's team selection suggests that he is still searching for the right blend and formation to re-energise his troops but fresh injury concerns to Lennon and Leighton Baines (Martinez claims he picked up a groin complaint) won't help matters, particularly with tough games against Southampton and Liverpool to come before Wembley.
Everton complete a trio of away fixtures in the Premier League with a visit to Selhurst Park this evening to take on Crystal Palace where Roberto Martinez will be hoping to end a sequence of four games without a victory.
The Toffees have won only one of their last six league games and have suffered a marked drop in performances since their stirring win over Chelsea in the FA Cup. A dreadful home defeat to Arsenal was followed by a flat and uninspired loss to Manchester United, while last Saturday's draw with Watford was slightly improved, Martinez's men were still far below the levels they've shown they can reach at times this season.
That run of results has seen Everton drop to a miserable 14th place in the table, although a second successive victory on Palace's home turf would move them up to 11th. Defeat on the other hand, would see Blues drop to 15th and allow Alan Pardew's side to leapfrog above them.
Just like the clash with Watford, this is a meeting between two teams looking ahead to a Wembley semi-final while also battling declining fortunes in the League. Prior to their win over Norwich City at the weekend, Palace had gone an eye-watering 14 games without a win in the Premier League and dropped like a dead weight down the table having previously been out-pacing expectations in the top six earlier in the campaign.
Like his counterpart in the away dugout this evening, Pardew will be hoping that his side can now put together a run of results to move them back into a more respectable part of the table while also boosting confidence ahead of their cup semi-final the weekend after next.
He will be without the recovering James McArthur but can welcome back striker Emmanuel Adebayor who has one goal to his name since Palace ended his exile by snapping him in the January transfer window.
Martinez, meanwhile, will be forced into at least one change after Phil Jagielka limped off at Vicarage Road with a hamstring strain that may yet preclude his involvement at Wembley on the 23rd. With the manager publicly declaring his confidence that he can comfortably fill the void, Ramiro Funes Mori will almost certainly be his replacement alongside John Stones.
In midfield, Ross Barkley is expected to play despite also coming off against Watford with a knock but Tom Cleverley, his second-half replacement in that match, is rated as doubtful with an injury of his own.
With the pressure on him to get a result on the one hand and the fact that his recent team selections haven't melded to produce the kind of attacking football that made Everton so attractive to watch going forward earlier in the season on the other, it's not clear how daring Martinez will be in shaking things up in what could be a dress rehearsal for the cup final next month.
With the likes of Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman struggling for fitness of late and Oumar Niasse also battling to adapt to life in England, the Catalan's options are limited in what he can do in terms of reshuffling his pack. Bringing Kevin Mirallas in for Aaron Lennon or, more likely, Gerard Deulofeu, is one option after the Belgian's energetic cameo last time out.
It's probable, therefore, that he will persist with his recent formation and the bulk of that personnel in the hope that the glimmers of life they showed against Watford can spark some sort of revival in his team's performances.
Kick off: 8pm
Craig Pawson Mike Jones
Predicted line-up: Robles, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Baines, Barry, McCarthy, Barkley, Lennon, Mirallas, Lukaku