Manchester City wasted an opportunity to close the gap on Arsenal in the Premier League title race after drawing 0-0 to a Tim Howard-inspired Everton side at the Etihad Stadium.
Calls for Howard to be dropped came to a head over the festive period and the veteran goalkeeper was a surprise inclusion after stand-in Joel Robles impressed against the same opponents in last week's Capital One Cup tie.
But the Toffees' No.1 answered his critics in style, denying Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Sergio Aguero (twice), to ensure City failed to win for the sixth time in their last 10 league outings.
Everton missed a hatful of chances of their own in the first half but held on to record a result that if matched when they return to east Manchester in a week's time, would be enough to secure their passage to Wembley.
Traffic problems ensured the Toffees arrived at the Etihad over half an hour later than planned, but despite a spell of early pressure City were unable to take advantage of the visitors' pre-game upheaval.
De Bruyne flashed an early half-chance wide, while Toure saw a firm header palmed away by Howard, on his 350th Premier League appearance for the Merseyside club.
The rest of the half was all Everton. Joe Hart spread himself to deny Gerard Deulofeu at the far post, before the same player's attempted cross was deflected behind by sheepish-looking Nicolas Otamendi.
The lesser-spotted Leon Osman came within inches of opening the scoring with a goal of the season contender, after meeting Romelu Lukaku's cross with a left-foot volley reminiscent of Gareth Bale's for Tottenham against Stoke in 2010.
And soon after, Lukaku fired over from a tight angle having escaped Martin Demichelis down the Everton right.
City arose from their slumber after the break, though, and had Everton pegged back in their own box for a prolonged spell.
Yet for all their pressure, those clear-cut chances were slow to arrive. When they did, Howard was at bay to repel them. The American instinctively denied Aguero following a corner, before blocking low shots from Sterling and De Bruyne with his feet.
Aguero saw another goalbound effort smothered by Howard, while Lukaku failed to hit the target with a late header for Everton, before John Stones appeared to wipe out Sterling in the box with only seconds of added time remaining.
Referee Roger East had a good view of the incident, though, and pointed straight for a goal kick, much to the confusion of several-thousand City fans, who thought he'd given a penalty.