STEVENAGE 0 – EVERTON 4 (Naismith 5, 32, Heitinga 55, Gueye 84)
You knew it was bad when you saw the reaction of the players; some looked away, James McCarthy put his hands to his face in anguish while John Stones and Phil Jagielka comforted Bryan Oviedo. Then the referee, Anthony Taylor, and everyone else in the vicinity frantically signalled the dugout, and then the club doctor, Ian Irving, running onto the pitch. Then the stretcher and carried separately the inflatable leg brace; confirmation, if any were needed of the seriousness of the injury Oviedo had suffered. On Monday evening he undergoes surgery to insert the metalwork which will support his tibia and fibula while they mend. Conor McAleny’s presence on the bench, now fully recovered from a leg break earlier in the season, bears witness to how good the prognosis is these days; fifty years ago in all likelihood Oviedo would never have played again.
Our number 8 will be missed. Under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez he has grown, in half a season, from rarely seen understudy to Leighton Baines into a player demanding inclusion in his own right; a skilful, hardworking midfielder, capable of playing on the left or right flank and carrying a considerable goal threat. He will be back. Stronger and better.
Stevenage FC, conscious of the high water-table and the relatively poor drainage of their Broadhall Way pitch, had been protecting it in the week prior to this cup-tie by means of an inflatable cover. This came off the morning of the game and so was long gone by the time the thunderstorm and heavy rain hit the area during the afternoon. By kick-off time the goal areas were muddy and the outfield heavy and cutting up under the boot. Conditions which would, according to old football law, act as a leveller and favour the underdogs. That this did not happen was down to the fact that Everton refused to abandon their pressing and passing game; they were not tempted to try and out-muscle their opponents; this never descended into a contest of fitness or application, which, one is tempted to say, it might well have done under the previous management regime.
Two players in particular caught the eye. Prior to this game Joel Robles and Steven Naismith probably, in the eyes of most Evertonians, had a bit to do. Robles, an early fumble apart, pulled off a couple of smart saves and showed well when pressured from set pieces. But it was in the dying embers of this game, during a keystone cops goalmouth scramble, where he demonstrated his guts and bloody-minded refusal to concede as he cleaned out Dean Parrett blocking both man and ball at point blank range; Joel Robles will do for me.
Naismith, we now see, has been playing out of position. Mostly used as a late substitute, mostly wide-right, or flitting behind the main striker. If we had been watching carefully we might have noted that for a man that stands just 5ft 10 he is good in the air. This was his first opportunity to lead the line; his movement and positioning suggested he was in fact playing in the oft mentioned but rarely seen ‘false 9’ role; finding space, plenty of it, and waiting for the ball to find him. This was nothing short of a master-class. Not only an intelligent footballer he is also a good finisher. Both his goals were expertly taken with the dead-eye of a natural striker. Martinez suggested post-match that we will see more of Naismith down the middle; it seems that even Roberto is learning.
STEVENAGE (4-4-2): Day; Jones (Parrett 72), Ashton©, Charles, Hartley; Heslop, Morais (Andrade 81), Smith J, Freeman; Zoko (Deacon 85), Akins
Unused subs: Smith A, Wedgbury, Burrow, Tounkara.
Booked: Hartley, Smith
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Robles; Hibbert, Stones, Jagielka© (Heitinga 46), Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Oviedo (Osman 22), Mirallas (Gueye 81); Naismith
Unused subs: Howard, Lukaku, Vellios, McAleny
Ref: Anthony Taylor