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Roberto Martinez spoke of his optimism surrounding Everton's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United after believing his team had demonstrated crucial progress in their 0-0 Premier League draw at Crystal Palace.
Everton had to play with 10 men after James McCarthy was shown a second yellow card seven minutes into the second period, but amid intense pressure they remained resilient and earned what was ultimately an impressive point and clean sheet.
United's 2-1 win in their quarter-final replay at West Ham earlier in the evening ensured they would face Everton at Wembley on April 23, but despite his team's disappointing 1-0 league defeat at Old Trafford earlier this month and the defensive lapses that have ruined their pursuit of a top-six finish, Martinez was adamant their performance against Palace proved that this time they will be "ready" for United.
"That resilience we had to show," said the Spaniard. "But that's not enough on its own, you need tactical awareness as well, and we showed that. We were very clear in what we wanted to do, and then it's about managing the game to allow us our threat as well.
"I'm very pleased to keep a clean sheet and to manage the game in that way is perfect timing. It's great to see we're learning from our hard lessons. Probably, the timing of this performance is perfect.
"It all matters in the final weeks of the campaign. We've lost too many points late on. It's now you want to hit your top level. You want to shine in the last few weeks of the season.
"To play a semi-final of the FA Cup against Manchester United at Wembley is as good as it gets. We'll enjoy it and will be ready.
"It's the same weekend 50 years ago that Colin Harvey became a hero by scoring the winning goal in the semi-final of the FA Cup (against United). Maybe that's a sign of something to come, but it will be terrific to be able to have one of our players writing new history."
Asked of McCarthy's two bookings- the first for a foul on Yohan Cabaye and the second for a block on Yannick Bolasie - Martinez replied: "I thought James McCarthy was trying to stop Yannick Bolasie getting to the ball.
"Watching the replay, I was mistaken. I don't think it's a yellow card whatsoever. I think James McCarthy comes across to cover and stops, stands still, and the Crystal Palace player encourages the contact. I thought it was a very harsh second yellow card."
The draw took fellow cup semi-finalists Palace to 38 points for the season and manager Alan Pardew believes his team are now safe.
"I don't think it's possible for the others to catch us now," he said. "Connor (Wickham) looked like a player who's been injured - he needed that game - and (Emmanuel) Adebayor did well when he came on. So there are positives."
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