Roberto Martinez had the anxious air of a shipwrecked man who thinks he sees smoke on the horizon. Rescue is within reach, but tantalisingly uncertain. Confirmation of his fate will come soon, but not fast enough for comfort. Soporific Saturday was one to be endured rather than enjoyed.
It is absurd, but statistics are already being used in evidence against Everton's manager following this anaemic goalless draw at the Cardiff City Stadium. Martinez has won only one of his past 11 Premier League games. Only once in the David Moyes era did Everton fail to prise a victory from their opening three fixtures.
Yet – and this is where the madness of the transfer window is particularly acute – doubt still shrouds the make-up of his squad. Though the Cardiff fans chanted: "You're getting sold in the morning" at Marouane Fellaini, no such release is likely for Leighton Baines.
The pair may be coveted by Manchester United, but their commitment defied the conventions of an age in which transfer-seeking multi- millionaires prefer to stay in and wash their hair rather than train, while their agents get busy. Fellaini's 177th, and probably final, appearance for Everton was industrious rather than inspired. Baines, on the other hand, was peerless.
"They are great professionals who set a great example to football in general" said Martinez. "The situation is unfair for everyone. They are top players, and you want to keep them, but you are not always in control of what is going to happen."
Martinez, who hopes to add "one or two" to his squad before tomorrow night's deadline, had been told by Baines that Everton were denied "as clear a penalty as you will ever see" by Anthony Taylor, a consistently unimpressive referee.
The full-back made an angled run into the area in the 42nd minute before going down under a sliding challenge from Gary Medel. He anticipated contact but, despite the predictable scepticism of Cardiff's manager, Malky Mackay, it was sufficiently robust to justify Martinez's observation that "it was a clear, stonewall, penalty".
Baines held his head in his hands at the injustice of it all, but, true to character, made the best of a bad job. He even limited himself to a quiet word with Craig Bellamy, who appeared to swing a stiff arm at him as early as the fifth minute.
The priorities of Everton's succession planning are obvious. Fellaini used his mixture of physicality, technique and game-awareness in a dual role in front of the back four with the consistently undervalued Leon Osman. He shielded when necessary, and sprayed passes, quarterback style, when the opportunity arouse. Should he be allowed to join Manchester United – and financial logic suggests he will, should Everton receive more than the £23.5 million release clause which will be reimposed in his contract on 1 January – a ready-made replacement awaits, providing the haggling does not prove too onerous.
Everton's complaints that Moyes has returned to his old club with avaricious intent are insubstantial, because Martinez will simply seek to relieve Wigan, his own former club, of James McCarthy. They may even get the better of the deal, given that the Scot is, at 22, a player with far greater development potential.
Everton's problem may be up front, where Nikita Jelavic, mercifully substituted midway through the second half, has scored a solitary League goal in almost 23 hours of effort. He looks capable of playing for another full day before he adds to that paltry tally.
Cardiff will be the more satisfied with a point. Their home form was instrumental in their promotion, and will go a long way to determine their survival. Though occasionally vulnerable in the air, they had only one real moment of alarm, in the second minute of time added on at the end of the second half.
It required a wonderfully instinctive save by David Marshall to retain parity. Jelavic met Pienaar's right- wing cross with a header which deflected off the shoulder of Ben Turner, the competing defender. The goalkeeper twisted in mid-air, threw out a hand, and parried it to safety.
Mackay wants everyone to remain grounded, to distil passion and dwell on the advantages of cold, hard realism. Good luck with that. Horizons have been extended as optimism, generated by a four-point haul from two difficult home games, is unbounded.
His team are impeccably organised, comfortable in possession and composed on the break. Like every other manager, Mackay will spend the foreseeable future with his mobile phone glued to his ear, but he has already bought well in Medel, a £9.5m signing from Sevilla.
Providing he lives up to his nickname of The Pitbull without falling foul of such poor referees as Taylor, he will provide stability in front of the back four.
Cardiff have fielded more Englishmen, eight, than any other Premier League this season, but did sign the France Under-21 full-back Kevin Théophile-Catherine for £2m yesterday morning.
Best of luck to him, as he discovers the delights of dressing-room banter this side of the Channel.
Cardiff (4-2-3-1): Marshall; Connolly, Caulker, Turner, Taylor; Medel (Mutch, 88), Gunnarsson; Bellamy (Cowie, 78), Kim (Maynard, 81), Whittingham; Campbell.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Fellaini, Osman; Mirallas (Deulofeu, 85), Barkley, Pienaar; Jelavic (Kone, 67).
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match: Leighton Baines (Everton)Reuse content