THE countdown to the start of the new season continues, but Everton are still not ticking at all.
There are now only 12 days until the Blues kick off with a testing trip to deposed champions Arsenal. And boss David Moyes can expect a few sleepless nights given the latest evidence of a perplexing pre-season.
Rooneyless, goalless and winless during the last two games, Everton seem determined to prove the encouraging victory at Glasgow Rangers was more a blip than a statement of intent.
Throw in the fact there is now less than a month before the transfer window is slammed shut until the New Year, and you can see why post-match Moyes referred to a myriad of worries.
Of course, pre-season is often a fickle indicator of fortunes to come, but supporters and management alike have good reason to be concerned as Everton prepare for what is likely to prove a highly significant campaign.
Their old failings were never more apparent than on Saturday, when a virtually full-strength Blues line-up squandered a host of chances before surrendering meekly to a Preston outfit which, for all their pretty passing, are rightly not expected to be in the shake-up for promotion from Division One.
In the first half in particular, the Blues had the opportunities to make life easy for themselves and record another confidence-boosting victory. None were taken, highlighting once again the need for not only more clinical finishing in attack, but a realistic goal threat from midfield.
Everyone knows Wayne Rooney is a matchwinner - but remove him from the equation and for all their hard work and individual talents, it is difficult to see where the 'spark', that something extra which can prove the difference, is coming from.
A Steve McManaman or a Sean Davis could unlock the door, turning defeats into draws and draws in victories. This, of course, is hardly a startling revelation. Well aware of his squad's deficiencies, Moyes has insisted there will be transfer activity before the Highbury clash on Saturday week, and now he must hope the Blues board can deliver the readies to facilitate the desired incomings.
The irony will not have been lost on the Blues boss - who was afforded a warm welcome from the home crowd on his first return to Deepdale since departing for Goodison 18 months ago - that the one player who did find the net was a striker he brought to Preston on the cheap. Richard Creswell was a cut-price £500,000 buy from Leicester City, and it was his 48th-minute strike which condemned the visitors to a third pre-season defeat.
Given Everton's precarious financial state at present, such a seemingly nominal outlay would be considered extravagant. Although Wayne Rooney is expected to remain sidelined and Duncan Ferguson is suspended for the opening weeks of the season, Moyes has played down reports of bringing another striker in on loan.
But the shot-shy strikeforce - lest it be forgotten the goals in the 3-2 win at Ibrox came from defenders David Unsworth and Alan Stubbs and the on-trial Li Tie - has shown itself in need of such a fresh injection. And even if in the short-term Moyes decides not to provide a temporary solution, a long-term answer must be sought sooner rather than later.