What better way to test supposed recent improvements than a midweek trip to Chelsea and Stamford Bridge, a ground where Everton are winless in their last 23 visits in all competitions. This miserable sequence is the club's longest current winless away run against any opponent and dates back to November 1994 and a solitary Paul Rideout goal.
One player capable of ending this run is Romelu Lukaku, a young forward perhaps with something of a point to make against the club and the manager who sold him in the summer. Lukaku's upturn in form stalled in the recent Merseyside derby, though a lack of service and a formation at odds with his natural game were as much a factor as his own disappointing performance.
The return of Tim Howard may divert attention from Lukaku, though. Howard is back in full training and set to return to the first-team setup after an eight-match absence with a calf injury.
"Whenever Tim is fit he is our No. 1," said Everton manager Roberto Martinez, seemingly paving the way for Howard to resume his position as the last line of defence. Joel Robles' temporary stint looks set to be exactly that. One problem is the reasoning offered by Martinez for reinstating of Howard; it fails to stand up to scrutiny, especially on the evidence of this season.
"In goal you need a bit of stability," said the Everton boss. Yet stability featured among the numerous traits absent in the matches preceding Howard's injury, with his lack of form compounding the numerous failings of a then already misfiring defence.
Much like many of his teammates this season, Howard saved his best displays to date for the home and away Europa League meetings with Wolfsburg. However, these two impressive victories merely offered brief reminders of the quality hidden by Howard's season of inconsistency and struggle. As matches ticked by and results continued to worsen, it reached a point where it felt as though teams need only hit the target to spoil Everton's clean sheets. Howard's game had more holes than a sinking ship.
In Howard's absence, a settled system is showing the advantage of consistent selection; players are building an understanding, key partnerships are getting a chance to develop. Phil Jagielka and John Stones have the makings of an excellent central defensive pairing. Now, with the back line beginning to find its feet, Martinez seems prepared to disrupt the personnel once more. No sooner than Robles earned his place, it is about to be snatched from his grasp. The Spaniard has clean sheets in his last three league outings; the first time the team has managed such consistency since November 2013. Howard has three in the league all season.
Occasional moments of indecision linger; there was one in the Merseyside derby on Saturday when hesitancy led to a misjudged one-on-one with Raheem Sterling, but Robles has been a calming presence otherwise. The tendency earlier in his Everton career to punch anything and everything has ceased. This is a goalkeeper unrecognisable from the one flapping his way through last season's FA Cup defeat at the Emirates.
Displaying nerves and rustiness on his sporadic appearances since arrival, this eight-match stint has allowed the 24-year-old to demonstrate his ability, never more so than the FA Cup replay at West Ham. Undoubtedly, that was the match fully realising his credentials for the No. 1 position. In a cruel twist of fate, the Toffees' keeper missed the decisive penalty, but his goalkeeping heroics had kept 10-man Everton in the contest to that point.
Fewer question marks would surround Howard's potential automatic recall if his pre-injury form provided justification, but it does not. This blind faith toward a keeper error-prone for much of the season is puzzling, especially given the disparity between the performances of these two candidates.
It also sends out the wrong message. Howard walking straight back into the side completely undermines Robles. Everton's understudy deserves a chance to show whether he is a viable long-term solution in this position, starting with Wednesday's trip to table-topping Chelsea.