It's been three full months since Roberto Martinez sat with the Everton fan sites and, quite clearly, highlighted a creative "Number 10" as his top priority for the summer transfer window. It offered hope that the manager had pin-pointed the most glaring deficiency in his Everton side during the 2014-15 season – namely, a player to fill the enormous void that so often existed between lone-striker Romelu Lukaku and the Blues' midfield; an inventive presence to replace the keenly felt loss to persistent injury of Steven Pienaar; a player capable of turning a game on his own.
Not only was that player not in place by the time the new Premier League season kicked off three weeks ago, there is still no sign of one fitting the description as we head into the final days of the transfer window. Martinez may have a mind-blowing trick to produce from his sleeve between now and 6pm on Tuesday evening – one for which he has, perhaps, been biding his time for the opportune time to strike – but there is no question that, like on the opening day against Watford and last weekend against Manchester City, such a signing was badly needed at White Hart Lane this afternoon.
That actually went for both sides. Tottenham's maestro, Christian Eriksen, was absent for a second game running with a knee injury and though they would carve out enough chances to have won fairly comfortably had they not come up against Tim Howard in impressive form, the home side could have done with the Dane to actually get the job done against a Toffees defence that seemed intent at times on pushing the self-destruct button.
Everton, meanwhile, laboured under a midfield system that continues to be hamstrung by Martinez's dogged persistence with the Gareth Barry–James McCarthy axis to fashion just five efforts on goal, only two of those on target. They might still have won it with a bit more of a sustained push in the closing stages and, indeed, almost did when Arouna Kone glanced a header agonisingly wide with 17 minutes left, but they looked well short of the quality that will be required to finish in and around those top five or six places that the Catalan is no doubt aiming for.
That defensive midfield pairing was vital to the way Everton played in Martinez's first season in charge, of course, but with Barry two years older and looking leggier all the time, McCarthy beginning the new campaign in very one-dimensional – even subdued – fashion, and no-one knitting everything together in front of them, having two defensively-minded grafters sitting in the centre just feels like a formation that has out-lived its usefulness.
It's a system that is exacerbated by a lack of natural width and players being deployed out of position – a source of annoyance that blighted so much of last season and yet which continues this term. This time it was Arouna Kone and Tom Cleverley playing on the respective flanks as Martinez hoped to replicate the formula that proved so stunningly successful at Southampton a fortnight ago. This time, however, while there were times when Tottenham left themselves surprisingly open, Everton did little exploit it and Romelu Lukaku's 60-odd minutes on the field were a picture of frustration.
As they often do before tailing off, Everton started well enough and looked composed and purposeful in the early going. They weren't really able to find much penetration in the final third but there was energy about their play that was encouraging. In light of that aforementioned over-emphasis on defensive midfield, Tom Cleverley appeared wasted out on the left flank but it was his opportunism that created the visitors' best chance of the half and the only occasion on which Hugo Lloris was really tested. He robbed Kyle Walker outside the Spurs area and drove inside before unleashing a powerful shot that the French goalkeeper pushed over his bar with both hands.
Once Mauricio Pochettino's side had settled, however, they started looking to exploit the weaknesses in Everton's back line, most notably Bryan Oviedo's rustiness and poor positional sense at left back and the propensity for Barry and Phil Jagielka to make worrying errors in dangerous areas. And the skipper's dubious decision to try and play the offside trap right on the halfway line midway through the first half almost let Harry Kane in to score the first goal.
The England striker was put clean through by Ryan Mason's pass – albeit fractionally offside based on TV replays after the game – but he was foiled by a smart save by Howard with an out-stretched leg. And Howard had to be at his best again on three other occasions in the ensuing 10 minutes, saving from Mason after he had been put in on goal by Nasser Chadli's pass, palming Bentaleb's long-range shot away to safety and tipping a Toby Alderweireld header over following a corner.
Though forced into a change in personnel and, potentially at least, a more dynamic attack, when Kevin Mirallas was introduced to the contest in place of the stricken Tom Cleverley, Martinez's side struggled to carve out chances in the second half in a match that became increasingly fractious and ill-tempered. It was, truth be told, impressively handed by referee Mike Jones – there was plenty of debate about the legality of Eric Dier's heavy tackle on Cleverley and the scissor-like action that was supposed to be outlawed, but he correctly waved away appeals from Spurs for a penalty when Dele Alli appeared to dive over John Stones's out-stretched leg and clamped down on persistent Spurs fouls late in the game. (Stones, incidentally was, for reasons best known to them, booed for much of the game by the home crowd but serenaded with the new "Money Can't Buy Me Stones" chant by the large and vocal travelling contingent.)
In fact, the Blues were preoccupied in their defensive third in the first few minutes after the interval as they teetered on the brink of conceding the opening goal with a period of profligate passing and defensive hesitancy. Jagielka had to block smartly to charge down a shot by Chadli and Howard had to make two more saves, first with his foot to deny Mason after a defensive mistake had gifted the ball to him near the Everton goal and then from Alli near his post after a slip by Barry.
With Kane having been repelled by another Jagielka block, and Chadli blasting a good opportunity from the rebound over the bar, Everton had largely weathered Tottenham's erratic storm by the time the match moved into the last 20 minutes and it was then that you felt Martinez could have inspired the plundering of all three points. He withdrew the tiring Lukaku in favour of Steven Naismith who added some industry and solidity on the right while Kone moved up front and almost headed home Oviedo's superb centre.
Kone himself then made way for Gerard Deulofeu six minutes after Mirallas had fired a direct free kick over the bar and the Spaniard had just one chance to try and unlock the Spurs but Jan Vertongen was not fooled by a succession of step-overs and the chance was lost. The game eventually petered out to a goalless conclusion, Mirallas's header straight at Lloris the last action of the 90-plus minutes.
Given the lack of transfer activity over the summer and the daunting schedule that the Blues were handed over their first 10 matches, many Evertonians would have gladly accepted four points from trips to the St Mary's and White Hart Lane before the season started and, even though one point from six at home is a poor return, they might also have settled for one defeat from the four August games.
Nevertheless, there is also a nagging feeling that, with a bit more adventure, more cohesion in the final third and, yes, that elusive play-maker already embedded in the side, Everton could be sitting in a more favourable position heading into the first international break of the 2015-16 season.
Today, against a poor Spurs side, there was simply too much reliance on the ball being punted past the midfield towards Lukaku – where, it should be noted, the Belgian won an abnormally high number of headers which, if he is going to continue to do so, is something his teammates need to cotton onto and start gambling with runs beyond him – and the general lack of a "water carrier" to bring the ball through midfield. Barkley tried gamely in that respect but all too often battled to find enough room in which to operate and Coleman was an occasional threat down the right but it was all too often too narrow or too direct, with little imagination in trying to carve a way through the home defence. Ultimately, it felt simultaneously like a fortunate point gained but also an opportunity missed.
Therein lies Martinez's continuing challenge in games where the lie-in-wait-and-counter-attack strategy doesn't work. Again, that highly-anticipated "Number 10", if he ever arrives, could be a crucial part of the jigsaw; without him, you feel it's going to be another long and frustrating season.
Man of the Match: Tim Howard
With the John Stones transfer saga put to bed – albeit with inactivity on the incoming-transfer front causing uneasiness among supporters – Everton travel to Tottenham for the late afternoon televised kick-off tomorrow hoping for a rare win in N17 on the heels of that thrilling Capital One Cup adventure in Barnsley.
Like Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane has become a frustrating place to visit for Everton in recent years, where they haven't won since a Vedran Corluka own goal in November 2008 handed David Moyes three points that, at the time, moved the Blues seven points ahead of Spurs who were languishing in 15th place. They came close two years ago when Gylfi Sigurdsson snatched a draw with a late goal but it's largely been a difficult fixture for the Blues in the Premier League era.
Tottenham come into this weekend in a similar position in the fledgeling 2015-16 table, having managed two draws from their opening three games. Two of those early fixtures were away from home where they were edged 1-0 by Manchester United on the opening day and held by an exuberant Leicester who were coming off back-to-back wins to start the season.
It's Tottenham's only home game so far that will give Everton cause for optimism, though; Mauricio Pochettino's men threw away a 2-0 lead against Stoke and eventually had to settle for a 2-2 draw that suggests they can be vulnerable both mentally and defensively. It also provides scope for Martinez to go after them in an attacking sense to some degree, although he will hopefully be mindful of the manner in which his side surrendered a precious advantage in this fixture last season with a poor second-half showing that rendered Kevin Mirallas's stunning goal moot.
Although many eyes will inevitably be on Stones, Mirallas will feature prominently in Evertonian minds as they ponder how Martinez will set up his side for this one. For reasons best known to the manager, the Belgian was an un-used substitute against Manchester City last Sunday in a 2-0 defeat that was crying out for his attacking talents and although it was only League Two opposition, he underscored how important a player he is – particularly in terms of weighing in with goals –with his performance against Barnsley on Wednesday evening.
Though Gerard Deulofeu came off the bench at Oakwell to turn in a game-changing display of his own, you would think that Mirallas would be the more reliable starter for Everton at White Hart Lane... although there are plenty who would like to see both wide men on the field together at some point this weekend given how dangerous they were in the cup midweek.
Martinez will, obviously, need to balance any attacking intent with defence and with Gareth Barry taking a rest for the Barnsley game, it's almost certain that he will make his 700th senior appearance tomorrow, alongside James McCarthy as the defensive-midfield axis protecting the back four. That is if Martinez doesn't elect to drop Barry into a left-back role in place of Bryan Oviedo who made a welcome return to the side on Wednesday but betrayed plenty of rustiness following six months on the sidelines with injury. In that instance, Tom Cleverley or Muhamed Besic would partner McCarthy in the middle.
Brendan Galloway's prognosis isn't yet known but he has been ruled out, along with Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Tony Hibbert and Leighton Baines. Seamus Coleman will almost certainly return at right back after he too was left out of the Barnsley game.
From Tottenham's perspective, they will be without their chief play-maker in Christian Eriksen who misses a second match with a knee injury – music to Everton ears given how influential he can be to Pochettino's side. New signing Clinton NjiĂ© will be available to make his debut but will probably start on the bench, while Heung-min Son, a big-money striking acquisition from Bayer Leverkeusen will have to wait for international clearance before he can make his debut.
As the emphatic win at Southampton a fortnight ago showed, Everton can turn on the style when they're in the mood and they seem to have enjoyed playing away more than in front of the home fans at Goodison recently. Since the debacle at Stoke, the Blues have won three, drawn one and and lost one in the League and if they can approach this one with the same intensity as they did the game at the St Mary's, they could give the Londoners a shock.
Kick off: 5:30pm
Referee: Mike Jones
Predicted line-up: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Oviedo, Barry, McCarthy, Cleverley, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku