Aston Villa 0 - 0 Everton
Dominic Calvert-Lewin was denied late on by Emiliano Martinez as Everton struggled to find the cutting edge they needed up front
Everton dropped vital points in what was their game in hand over some key rivals for European qualification when they couldn't find a way past Aston Villa at Villa Park this evening.
The Blues extended their impressive run away from home to just one defeat in 13 on the road since the start of November but they passed up a big opportunity to move level on points with West Ham in fifth place with a goalless draw against Dean Smith's side.
Emiliano Martinez pulled off two good saves in the second half to deny Ben Godfrey at Dominic Calvert-Lewin from close range and André Gomes had a shot deflected away to safety but overall Everton lacked the required quality and composure in the final third to pick their way through the home defence.
Carlo Ancelotti was able to welcome Abdoulaye Doucouré back to the starting XI following a two-month absence through injury and he came in at the expense to Tom Davies while Mason Holgate replaced the injured Yerry Mina in a three-man central defensive unit.
The visitors followed an established pattern of safety and containment for much of a first half that was short on entertainment and goalmouth incident. Seamus Coleman clipped a ball in for Calvert-Lewin but there wasn't enough pace on the delivery for him to get enough power with his header and Martinez made a comfortable save with a quarter of an hour gone.
Two minutes later, Villa should have taken the lead when Douglas Luiz evaded Godfrey in the box following a corner and centred for Tyrone Mings but the defender planted his header wide of the goal with Jordan Pickford gambling in the other direction.
Gylfi Sigurdsson had a direct free-kick easily caught, Richarlison dug out a shot 10 minutes before the break that flew off target from 18 yards out and Lucas Digne caused momentary panic in the home defence when his deep cross almost grazed the bar.
As they needed to, Everton showed more intent in the second half, particularly as the game wore on and remained goalless but they struggled to get things right in attacking areas.
Doucouré miscued as the Toffees over-elaborated on the edge of the box and the ball deflected away in the 46th minute and Calvert-Lewin forced a save from Martinez before being flagged offside by the slenderest of margins.
It was Godfrey who came closest to winning the match, however, when Coleman was shoved over by John McGinn midway inside the Villa half and Sigurdsson whipped a free-kick to the back post that Godfrey met on the volley but Martinez palmed it behind to prevent it flying inside his near post.
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Pickford fisted an Anwar El Ghazi free-kick away to safety at one end before Gomes came on for Sigurdsson and almost immediately had a chance to break the deadlock but smashed a rising, 20-yard shot over the bar, although a simple pass to the wide-open Richarlison would have been a far better option.
Then, after Alex Iwobi had replaced Coleman, Gomes had an even better chance when Richarlison cut the ball back to him after charging down the channel but the Portuguese's side-foot finish was blocked.
Calvert-Lewin almost got in as he tried to round Martinez but he couldn't stop the ball crossing the byline while the goalkeeper did well to cover his goal as the England striker rose with a trademark back-post header to meet another Digne cross which proved to be the last real chance for Everton to grab the precious points.
The draw moves the Blues back into eighth place, a point ahead of Arsenal but potentially four points shy of fifth place depending on the result at Old Trafford where Liverpool were facing Manchester United.