Everton’s hopes of finishing in the Premier League’s European places suffered a blow as they played out a goalless draw at Aston Villa.
In an uninspiring contest devoid of quality Tyrone Mings headed Villa’s best chance wide from Douglas Luiz’s cross.
Subdued for long periods of the first half, Everton improved after the break, with Ben Godfrey drawing a save from home goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s free-kick.
Andre Gomes wastefully lashed a left-footed effort over the bar as the visitors chased a winner but Martinez was rarely called upon, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s late header his only other save of note.
The result leaves Carlo Ancelotti’s side eight points adrift of Chelsea in fourth, with West Ham, Liverpool and Tottenham all better placed to qualify for Europe.
Villa, who welcomed captain Jack Grealish back from injury as a second-half substitute, remain 11th in the table.
Everton arrived at Villa Park hoping to maintain their fine away record that accounted for 65% of their Premier League points this term.
And while there was the added incentive of gaining revenge against a Villa side that won at Goodison Park 12 days ago, they only showed sporadic flashes of attacking ambition.
Abdoulaye Doucoure, Richarlison, Michael Keane and Calvert-Lewin all failed to convert when presented with good chances, with Martinez producing an outstanding save to keep out the England forward’s header.
Four draws and defeat in their last seven matches points to a side that has always seemed to be chasing others above them without ever being able to apply any serious pressure.
While they again looked solid defensively – restricting the hosts to just two efforts on target – Ancelotti’s side will need to show more attacking ambition in their final three fixtures against Sheffield United, Wolves and Manchester City.
In a game where Villa displayed few moments of real quality, the return of Grealish offered a timely boost to Villa boss Dean Smith and England manager Gareth Southgate, who is soon to name his squad for the European Championship.
Villa have enjoyed a 50% Premier League win ratio when Grealish has featured this term, compared to 25% in his absence.
And while he was unable to influence the result in his 26-minute cameo, he showed a few good touches and made one superb darting run from right to left to evade several Everton defenders.
At the other end of pitch, Martinez showed exemplary reactions and competence throughout.
The Argentine has looked an astute acquisition by Smith and his 15th shut-out of the season saw him equal Brad Friedel’s club record for clean sheets in the Premier League era (set in 2009-10).
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith, speaking to Sky Sports: “I thought we controlled the ball well in the first half without creating chances. The second half was a bit scrappy. It started as a basketball game but we never took the control we wanted. They had the later chances.
“JJ [Jacob Ramsey] coming on and Jack [Grealish] helped us. We looked like we could create something in final third. That was what was missing for us. It is another clean sheet, we haven’t had one for six or seven games.
“We knew he [Emiliano Martinez] would be important for us. He’s done really well. With Tom Heaton injured at the start of the season we needed someone. He’s made it his number one jersey.”
On Grealish:”The medical staff said [bring him on at minute] 75 but I twisted their arm to get a few more minutes out of him. I felt we were flat in the final third and needed a spark. He won’t be ready to start at Crystal Palace.”
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti, speaking to BBC Sport: “It is a point, what can I say? Not satisfied for the result, satisfied for the performance. We could win but we have to take this point and try to win the next game. We have to try to win the home games, where we have had difficulty this season.
“Villa are a good team, to win here is not easy. I think our performance was the best that we can. We could probably do a bit better with the final pass or final shot but in general the performance was good.”
On race for Europe: “I am really positive. We have a great opportunity and we have to try to do our best. I said at the start of the season the European positions will be decided by the last game, I think they will be decided by the last game and we want to be there.”
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