Bryan Oviedo made his long-awaited return from injury but could not prevent Everton from exiting the Capital One Cup in the third round at the hands of Swansea City.
Oviedo got through nearly an hour’s worth of action in his first competitive game since breaking his leg at Stevenage in January.
But the Costa Rican’s comeback appearance was one of only a few positives to take from a disappointing night in South Wales which ended in a 3-0 defeat for the Blues.
Nathan Dyer opened the scoring on the half-hour mark for the hosts before Gylfi Sigurdsson and substitute Marvin Emnes netted in the second period.
Darron Gibson played his first 90 minutes in over a year and there was a full debut for Muhamed Besic who had previously been forced to wait patiently for a start since joining from Ferencvaros in the summer.
Bosnian international Besic, one of eight changes made by Roberto Martinez, wasted no time in making an impression on the game, launching himself into a crunching tackle on Tom Carroll in the early stages and later flashing an effort over the bar from the edge of the area.
Everton’s best chances in the first half fell to defenders as Tony Hibbert - on an evening where he beat Brian Labone’s Everton record for an outfield player featuring in 15 different seasons for the Blues - was also off-target with a drive from distance and Antolin Alcaraz forced Gerhard Tremmel into a reflex save from six yards out.
Luke Garbutt then delivered a teasing cross which evaded all inside the box – but it was the visitors who struck first through Dyer on the half-hour mark.
Sigurdsson had earlier blazed two efforts over the bar for the hosts before Dyer made the breakthrough when he converted Ecuadorian World Cup star Jefferson Montero’s left-winged cross at the far post.
Everton’s response was encouraging. Besic drilled another shot narrowly wide while Christian Atsu created half a yard of space with his trickery, only to see his shot charged down.
Romelu Lukaku was thrown into the action at the interval – replacing Samuel Eto’o – and he was inches away from announcing himself just seconds after the restart with a powerful run-and-shot which flew over the frame of the goal.
It was a similar story for Aiden McGeady in Everton’s next attack, with the winger unable to get any precision on a shot from a similar distance.
McGeady then, on a brisk counter-attack, over-hit a slide-rule pass for Oviedo, who shortly after departed to a standing ovation from the travelling Blues fans when he was replaced on 58 minutes by James McCarthy.
The Blues pressed purposefully for an equaliser but Swansea always posed a threat themselves in attack – a point highlighted when Howard was forced to beat away a guided Sigurdsson header.
The Iceland international had caused problems for the Blues all evening and it was he who made it 2-0 on 65 minutes.
Sylvain Distin attempted to deal with a cross from the left but headed it against his own bar. The ball rebounded into the path of Sigurdsson and he stretched out a leg to convert past Howard.
From that point onwards, the Blues struggled to find a way back into the game. Lukaku had a half-chance when he broke the offside trap but Tremmel was alert and raced out of his area to get to the ball before the rampaging Belgian did.
The Toffees' disappointing night was rounded off when Emnes appeared from the bench to lash in a third three minutes before the end.
Everton’s proud record of never previously losing to the Swans has ended and the Blues must now rally themselves for the Merseyside derby at Anfield on Saturday.