Everton and Tottenham served up an almost expected 1-1 draw at Goodison Park on Sunday, with both teams sharing the points for the ninth time this season.
Everton took the lead against the run of play in the first half thanks to a well-struck Aaron Lennon goal against his former club. It was the home team's first effort of the match and Lennon's first goal of the season.
The visitors looked the likely winners for long periods, however, and the belated Everton recovery owed much to the kind of early and decisive substitution that manager Roberto Martinez has not produced enough in recent times, with one of those introduced, Muhamed Besic, at the forefront of a much-improved final half-hour.
Accompanying the Besic change was a tactical switch, with Tom Cleverley moving out to the left and providing support and a much-needed passing option for Leighton Baines. The switch handed the home side a better midfield balance -- Cleverley's presence meant the new central midfield duo of Besic and Gareth Barry no longer had to worry about covering the often-outmatched left side.
The improved shape, width and renewed urgency must be carried forward into a packed January and the remainder of the season. It also showed that it's time the Arouna Kone midfield experiment came to rest on the tactical scrapheap.
Given the pattern of the match, this appears a good point against an impressive Tottenham side, but the need for wins offers no such luxury. Yet more points dropped at home for a team with three wins in their past 13 league games. More than halfway through the season, Everton are still searching for a winning formula.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Tim Howard, 6 -- The American did nothing wrong -- the significance of that statement merely highlights how unreliable Howard has become. Handled well throughout but failed to convince when trying to command his penalty area.
DF Seamus Coleman, 6 -- An excellent early block denied a certain goal, but this was an otherwise average outing for the Everton right-back, who lost his man for the Tottenham goal, allowing Dele Alli too much time and space to equalise.
DF John Stones, 7 -- There was a heart-stopping dribble in his own six-yard box in the closing stages -- either brilliance or stupidity, depending on how you view the role of a defender -- but this was an improved defensive display.
DF Ramiro Funes Mori, 6 -- There is still a tendency to rush clearances, which often increases the very pressure they intend to relieve, but generally steady in other areas. His playing time is likely to reduce once club captain Phil Jagielka reaches full fitness.
DF Leighton Baines, 6 -- Started the move leading to the Everton opener, aggressively winning the ball before a neat flick moved play onto Cleverley. Otherwise, the Everton full-back remains on the periphery due to a system not suited to his talents.
MF Tom Cleverley, 7 -- Delightful pass to Lukaku for the goal was the highlight of another all-action display. His move to the left flank after Martinez's double substitution provided much-needed balance and overdue support for Baines on that side.
MF Gareth Barry, 7 -- The heartbeat of the team and a model of consistency once again, Barry coped well with the test provided by the youthful running and intelligent movement of the Spurs midfield.
MF Aaron Lennon, 7 -- Offered a strong case for increased involvement with a fine goal, and much of the rare attacking threat offered in the first half came from the former Spurs winger.
MF Ross Barkley, 6 -- Struggled in the first half as Spurs dominated, but he improved after the break and produced some delightful flicks to create space in a congested midfield.
MF Arouna Kone, 5 -- The Ivorian is increasingly out of place on the left and does not offer enough in attack to compensate for his positional deficiencies. Visiting right-back Kyle Walker revelled in Kone's nonexistent defending down the Tottenham right.
FW Romelu Lukaku, 7 -- Up against the meanest defence in the league, this was an examination that the in-form Lukaku managed well. His assist for Lennon's goal means no player has been directly involved in more Premier League goals than Lukaku this season (20 involvements. 15 goals, 5 assists).
MF Muhamed Besic, 8 -- That he inspired considerable improvement in those around him by simply closing down and making tackles says plenty about how weak this team can be without the ball, especially without the injured James McCarthy. Close to an excellent volleyed goal but for a fine Hugo Lloris save.
MF Gerard Deulofeu, 6 -- Deulofeu is always a threat and his trickery troubled the Spurs defence in the later stages, although it was a mixed bag of a cameo on this occasion.