Quite how much Marouane Fellaini is worth in the transfer market may become clear in the next few days but his value was immeasurable to Roberto Martínez in this match. Priced at £16m by Manchester United in a bid Everton deemed derisory and insulting, the Belgian was required to spare Everton the ignominy of elimination at the hands of Stevenage. The substitute secured the first win of Martínez's reign but that was a cause of relief rather than celebration.
For few can testify to the effects of cup upsets at Goodison Park quite like Martínez. Had the Spaniard's Wigan side not demolished Everton 3-0 in March's FA Cup quarter-final, perhaps he would not be managing on Merseyside. Yet if Wigan were outsiders then, Stevenage, beaten six times in their last seven League One fixtures, represented the ultimate underdogs.
Yet they led through Luke Freeman – who became the first visiting player to score at Goodison Park since Jordi Gomez for Martínez's Wigan five months before – and, although Everton soon levelled, Stevenage mounted a memorable rearguard action to take the tie to extra time. "Stevenage were really good," Martínez said. "The headlines should be about how well they played."
Fellaini ensured otherwise as Martínez, belatedly recognising that a more direct option was required, unleashed the Belgian and his uncanny ability to create chaos in the penalty area was apparent again. He had almost struck twice before Stevenage failed to clear Bryan Oviedo's cross, Steven Naismith kneed the ball into Fellaini's path and the midfielder swivelled to send Everton into a third-round tie at Fulham. Whether he will still be an Evertonian then, of course, remains to be seen.
With worries about their present, the consolation for Everton on a difficult night was that they received more evidence their future will be bright. Teenagers have illuminated their start to the season but Gerard Deulofeu had found himself overshadowed by Ross Barkley, who was fast-tracked into the England squad and compared with Michael Ballack before the newcomer had made his debut.
Yet on his belated bow, the winger, borrowed from Barcelona, scored a solo goal that suggested Lionel Messi is an influence. A solo run that showcased speed and tight control was followed by a precise finish. "He is an incredible talent," Martínez said. "His talent gets you off your feet and gets you excited. The way he takes people on is a real joy to watch; he is a real diamond."
Barkley, the other jewel in the crown, also shone, producing a series of well-struck shots, most of them fractionally off target. "We were naive at times in the final third," Martínez said. "At times we didn't show enough sharpness."
The fault lay not with the two teenagers, but with their elders. Arouna Koné should have marked his full debut with a hat-trick of goals, not a trio of glaring misses. The most embarrassing, when David Gray was allowed to clear off the line, followed a Deulofeu cross that seemed to catch the striker unawares. Profligacy was contagious until, after Stevenage had survived an onslaught, Everton appeared to run out of ideas until Fellaini's introduction.
In contrast, if Stevenage's attacks were sporadic, they nonetheless contained menace. They led when Oumare Tounkara sprinted clear on the left and teed up Jimmy Smith. While he scuffed his shot, the ball fell invitingly for Freeman to drill it into the roof of the net.
But for a flying save from Joel Robles to deny the Everton fan Greg Tansey a spectacular winner against the side he supports, extra time would not even have been required. In the added period, Robles excelled again to stop Freeman scoring a second.
For the most part, however, Stevenage concentrated on defence. Their commitment was epitomised, rather painfully, when Gray slid into the post to prevent Koné from scoring. He was left wincing but Fellaini was about to inflict a more painful blow.