EVERTON 2 (Naismith 74, Mirallas 85) – ASTON VILLA 1 (Bacuna 34)
Last season Kevin Mirallas would probably not have been on the pitch as late as the eighty-fifth minute; Moyes had him marked as a player who lasted 70 minutes and then lost concentration or who, with 15 minutes remaining, was signalling that he needed to come off. He was in danger of being branded as gifted but fragile, as one who drifted out of games, a latter day Derek ‘Shirley’ Temple; brilliant one game, then invisible the next. This season things have been different; Mirallas has become more consistent, he is evidently fitter and has come to terms with the rigours of the Premier League. This game probably marks the end of his personal journey from fitful, flair player to one who can endure and deliver for the full ninety. And it was appropriate that this was exemplified by the wonderful goal he scored with just five minutes left on the clock. Judging by Mirallas’ reaction after scoring – he ran straight to his manager – we must assume that Roberto Martinez has played a significant part in this transformation. As Martinez said after the game “Mirallas has changed in his mentality in knowing how important he is for this football club and the team…and in terms of belief in himself.”
That Steven Naismith’s brace in the FA Cup a couple of weeks ago were scored against Stevenage, plumb bottom of League One, probably, in a paradoxical sort of way, to some observers nullified them as meaningful. After all he’s not particularly tall or big, not particularly quick, doesn’t appear especially skilful, and is, unfashionably, a Scot too. He may be all these things, but he has one invaluable asset, no, we tell a lie he has three invaluable assets.
First, he is totally committed, always giving 100% to the team. Second, he is good in the air. For a man that stands just 5ft 10, he wins far more than his fair share of aerial duels. Third and most important, he is an excellent finisher. Naismith has the special skill-set a goal-scorer needs. He is calm, he thinks about what he is going to do, where he is going to place the ball, and he executes; the polar opposite of hit and hope. This is what he said about his goal against Villa: “I saw the keeper plant his feet and I knocked the ball past him, and he can’t move.” He is intelligent; again after the game: “They were keeping a high line so timing your run was the key.” Naismith has demonstrated he has the skill needed to dispatch a high percentage of the openings that come his way. Lots of players have the skill, it’s what’s going on upstairs that either betrays them, or makes them, as strikers.
Add to this an aptitude for scoring important goals. Last season crucial, point-saving, face-saving goals against Liverpool and Norwich and this season the winner against Chelsea at Goodison and then the first against Stevenage after 5 minutes which settled some jangling nerves after a rocky start and his second which sealed the game. While against Villa, in the context of the game and of Everton’s ambitions for the season, a pivotal goal. I can name a shed-full of blue-shirted strikers who many would rank ahead of Naismith, who would have fluffed every goal described above.
It is now evident that under both Moyes and Martinez Naismith has not always been played in his best position. Often asked to play out wide in the later stages of matches; to help cover and defend and close out games, Martinez is now using him as an offensive force, down the middle. We suspect Steven Naismith’s name will appear a few more times on the score-sheet before the season is out.
For a striker it is helpful to be underestimated to be able to sneak under the radar, so Naismith will be more than happy to let Mirallas take the headlines and for him to retain his relative anonymity.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1); Howard; Stones (Naismith 70), Jagielka©, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; McGeady (Hibbert 87), Barkley (Pienaar 46), Osman; Mirallas
Unused subs: Robles, Coleman, Vellios, Garbutt
ASTON VILLA (3-4-1-2): Guzan; Vlaar© (Albrighton 80), Baker, Clark; Bacuna, Westwood, Delph, Bertrand; Weimann (Tonev 87); Holt (El Ahmadi 61), Benteke
Unused subs: Steer, Helenius, Sylla, Lowton
Referee: Robert Madley