Youngsters John Stones and Gerard Deulofeu showed great promise during the 2-1 defeat
Crumbs of comfort appeared few and far between for the disappointed travelling Goodison army as they trudged away from Craven Cottage on Tuesday night.
A new manager had been unable to address the all-too-familiar League Cup failing as Everton FC were bundled out of the competition by Fulham.
With it went Roberto Martinez’s unbeaten record, a much-changed team ultimately unable to repay the faith shown by the manager in the depth of the squad by surrendering a first-half lead.
And it ended hopes of a return to Wembley and closed the shortest route to a long-awaited return to European competition.
But amid the gloom came two chinks of light that have made the most of their brief opportunity to impress in the Capital One Cup.
The £3million arrival of John Stones during the January transfer window slipped largely under the radar as Everton supporters bemoaned the lack of major reinforcements that many correctly feared would scupper hopes of Champions League qualification last season.
But since his cheeky penalty-taking exploits in the United States against Juventus, the 19-year-old has gradually seen his profile rise among the fanbase.
And after an encouraging home debut in the previous round against Stevenage, Stones was arguably Everton’s stand-out performer at Craven Cottage.
Solid, composed and confident, Stones hasn’t looked out of place when called upon, attributes which Sylvain Distin – who partnered the youngster in central defence on Tuesday – reveals have not gone unnoticed on the training ground.
“He’s doing well so far,” says Distin. “John is doing great at training and he has a good mentality. He is a great guy as well, he is working and listening and has everything in his make-up to be successful.
“Nowadays maybe I am a bit old school. You have some new generation of young players who are a bit flashy and very different, it’s difficult to communicate with them.
“But John is not like that. His mentality is even better than his attributes, and that is what is going to take him really far in the game.”
Stones, who featured at right-back for former club Barnsley, demonstrated his versatility against Fulham by later forming part of a back three as Everton chased the game.
And Distin adds: “I’m not surprised he has progressed so much since he has moved to Everton. He is young but he is very mature.
“We see him every day in training, but when players aren’t on the field too much, supporters don’t really know what to expect from them.
“But we see him every single day so we know exactly what he is capable of.”
If Stones demonstrated consistency, the first half belonged to fellow youngster Gerard Deulofeu whose quick footwork and lightning turn of pace have already made him a favourite with the Goodison crowd and prompted Fulham manager Martin Jol to haul off tormented left-back John Arne Riise.
Deulofeu’s fading influence after the interval mirrored those of Everton. Distin, though, is confident the on-loan Spaniard’s decision-making will improve over the course of the campaign.
“Gerard really showed his potential during the first half,” says the Frenchman. “There was a little bit of frustration because once or twice he could have made different decisions when on the ball.
“Football is a game of decisions and you don’t always make the right ones, that happens to all of us. But he’s got a lot of quality, and he certainly has the quality to go on to play for Barcelona.
“Everton is a great place for him to learn about that decision-making and for him to improve on it.
“At Everton we stick together no matter what, we are a team. If you make a mistake, we stick together and support each other. I know this from my own personal experiences.”
It’s remarkable to consider only once in the last 26 years have Everton progressed beyond the last 16 of the League Cup, and Distin admits the Goodison outfit paid for their failure to adapt to Fulham’s change of approach after the interval.
“We played really well in the first half and had the game in our hands,” adds the Frenchman. “Realistically we should have been 2-0 up by half-time. We created a lot of chances but could only get the one goal.
“I don’t believe half-time came at the wrong time for us, you always know when it’s coming and it was up to us to carry on in the same way in the second.
“We didn’t field a B team. It was a very competitive team. But if you don’t win, it’s difficult to look on the bright side.
“We felt comfortable but in the second half Fulham changed their system a bit, started to press higher and we didn’t adapt. It was a completely different game after we conceded their first goal.
“The second goal was just about communication but we needed a little more focus as it was an easy set-piece. It was an easy pass and we didn’t switch on. It wasn’t good enough.”
Despite the Fulham frustration, Distin is confident Everton’s strong start to the Premier League campaign will not be hampered by their Capital One Cup exit.
Martinez’s men are the only side still unbeaten in the top flight and, after successive victories, sit only three points adrift of leaders Arsenal.
They entertain Newcastle United – beaten 3-2 at home by promoted Hull City in their last top-flight encounter – on Monday night looking to extend a home record that has seen them lose just one of their last 29 Premier League games at Goodison.
“I don’t think the defeat to Fulham will affect our Premier League form,” says Distin. “We have a strong character and I’m pretty sure we are going to learn from it.
“You have to refocus. We have a Premier League coming quickly and it’s an important one on Monday. We have to show what we can do.”