On a night of goals from glancing headers at Villa Park, with Tim Cahill outscoring Gabriel Agbonlahor by two to one, Aston Villa rescued a point in stoppage time when a ball that skimmed off the head of Everton's Phil Jagielka was fumbled over the line by the previously outstanding Tim Howard.
A twist of Cahill's forehead gave Everton an early lead, only for Villa to level with 18 minutes remaining through a replica effort by Agbonlahor, the striker's 15th of the season coming from a cross by the endlessly creative James Milner. Two minutes later, Cahill struck his own ninth of the campaign in similar fashion following Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's corner, but at the start of time added on Jagielka and Howard conspired to turn Ashley Young's cross into a second equaliser.
Both managers felt they had been on the wrong end of crucial refereeing decisions. Martin O'Neill, who did not conceal his disdain for costly aberrations by Phil Dowd and Howard Webb in Villa's disappointments at Wembley in the Carling Cup final and FA Cup semi-final respectively, continued the theme. Not only had Cahill given Richard Dunne "a little bit of push" before the Australian scored Everton's opener, but O'Neill argued that the free-kick from which it stemmed, for a foul by Stephen Warnock on Leon Osman, should not have been given.
For Everton, David Moyes said he had studied Jagielka's unwitting contribution to the Villa cause frame by frame on a television monitor and claimed John Carew was "just offside" when Young delivered the cross.
Villa needed more than a draw if they were to keep alive their hopes of a tilt at next season's Champions League, although with their next three fixtures being at Portsmouth and Hull City and a home derby with Birmingham City, hope springs eternal. Realistically, they are now competing for a Europa League spot, as are Everton from further back, so forcing Moyes's side to settle for a third consecutive draw was useful in one respect.
O'Neill justifiably hailed an "enthralling spectacle, as a lot of our games with Everton seem to be", though he was less than enthralled by the outcome. "Maybe a point doesn't suit either side in terms of our aspirations – Everton's for European football and ours for something higher," he said. "I thought before the match that we'd have to win all our remaining games [to finish in the top four]. I certainly think that's the case with our last five now, but it's not impossible."
The Villa manager spoke of his team's "top-class resilience", given that they had played an FA Cup semi-final against the Premier League leaders on a difficult surface at Wembley last Saturday evening. "I watched Chelsea play Bolton on TV on Tuesday and they looked a bit sluggish," he said. "So I thought we were terrific."
Asked to comment on Milner's display, so soon after the England midfielder was the victim of a wild challenge by John Terry at Wembley, O'Neill added: "It was extraordinary. He is developing into a really great player."
Moyes admitted it was "galling" to have drawn three games in succession, despite an overall sequence of just two defeats in 20 matches. Everton's focus, however, remains firmly on the theatre of European football. "Some managers might not mind missing out on it because it gives you a better chance in the league, but this club needs it," he said, adding with a grin: "If any of the teams above us don't want it, I'll take their place."
Everton went ahead midway through the first half after the referee Martin Atkinson penalised Warnock. Leighton Baines crossed to the right wing to curl an inswinging ball with his left foot, and while the ball was in flight, Cahill stole away from Dunne, illegally according to O'Neill, to collect one of his trademark headed goals. Agbonlahor emulated him to pull Villa level just when they were beginning to labour, but Cahill swiftly restored Everton's advantage from Bilyaletdinov's corner.
Under pressure from Carew, Jagielka gave Villa hope of an unlikely victory in the four remaining minutes of time added on. Yet it was the more fluid Everton, through an angled drive by Phil Neville that flashed tantalisingly wide, who came closer to claiming all three points.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, Collins, Dunne, Warnock (Delfouneso, 77); A Young, Milner, Petrov, Downing; Agbonlahor, Carew. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), L Young, Sidwell, Delph, Heskey, Beye.
Everton (4-1-4-1): Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Heitinga (Rodwell, 50); Pienaar, Osman, Cahill, Bilyaletdinov (Yobo, 89); Yakubu (Saha, 63). Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Hibbert, Senderos, Wallace.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Aston Villa Milner, Petrov; Everton Cahill, Howard.
Man of the match: Milner.