Man of the Moment
He was signed for nothing, struggled on the wing in his first season at Everton under David Moyes but Steven Naismith is now thriving as the team's most clinical and reliable finisher.
22 October 2014
Steven Naismith has been Everton’s most consistent player this season, and by quite some distance. During a painfully slow start for the club, he’s one of only a few players to have found top form and is arguably the only squad member to have enhanced his overall reputation. While others have faltered and struggled for fluency, the Scotland international has regularly impressed. He’s already struck four Premier League goals and has earned a new level of admiration among supporters.
Rewind to his opening season and few recognised this current level of potential. David Moyes, who deserves credit for acquiring the Scot, had the forward playing out wide, utilising his relentless energy off the ball. While this made Everton a more compact, uncompromising foe, it deprived the team of Naismith’s attacking contribution – something fans have only recently been properly introduced to.
During Roberto Martinez’s charge, things have been different. Once again, this wasn't a predictable eventuality from the start of last season. After two early goals, including the winning strike against Chelsea, Naismith returned to the bench for much of the early going. After playing a full part in October’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester City, the 28-year-old didn't start again until the end of December, and many assumed him surplus to requirements under Martinez’s watch. In fact, excluding one 90-minute performance against Southampton, Naismith managed just 61 minutes over a run of 14 Premier League games. That was until Romelu Lukaku’s injury against Liverpool handed him a spotlight at the start of 2014.
Since then, Naismith’s stock has gradually risen, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon. It’s coincided with his use in a central role where he’s now scored 11 goals in his past 26 games for Everton (as well as having two strikes downgraded to own goals) and is currently one of the most prominent members of Martinez’s squad.
While there’s obviously a difference in quality, and a gulf between career achievements, the 28-year-old currently brings similar qualities to Everton as Thomas Muller does for Germany and Bayern Munich. Naismith is far from the most aesthetically pleasing footballer on the eye, as with Muller. Others attackers grab more attention and there are times when it seems his lack of pace and size must limit his effectiveness. When it comes to end product, however, the Scotland international is a front runner among the Everton squad. His statistics very much highlight this:
It would perhaps surprise a few fans to learn that, since the start of last season, the Everton player with the best goals per 90-minute ratio isn’t Lukaku, or Kevin Mirallas, or even Ross Barkley, but a certain Naismith. For every 90 minutes played, the Scotland international has returned 0.47 goals – effectively one in every two full games he's played. This even narrowly eclipses the return of the £28 million Lukaku.
Naismith’s production as an impact sub has seen many of his appearances come from the bench, translating to a decent, but unspectacular scoring return of 13 goals in 43 games during that time. However, his 2,468 minutes played is actually the equivalent of just 27 full games, making a return of 13 goals far more impressive. While it’s a relatively small sample size, his goals have arrived every 189 minutes since the start of last season. Lukaku’s 18 goals have come in the equivalent of just under 40 full games, or every 196 minutes, which is still very commendable, but marginally below the Scot.
An instant response to that is how a few of these goals have come against inferior opposition in early rounds of a cup, something that surely distorts his record. While this is undeniably true, Naismith can hardly be accused of being a flat track bully; far from it, he’s regularly been a player for the big occasion. Over half of his Premier League goals have come against last season’s top seven, including five in 10 appearances against Chelsea and Arsenal. As well as this, he’s also had a couple of unfortunate run-ins with the dubious goals panel, as previously mentioned.
One aspect that could improve Naismith’s game further is his shooting. Not in terms of quality – his numbers show him to be extremely accurate and more clinical than any Everton player – but in quantity. Quite simply, if he fired in as many shots as Lukaku, Barkley or Mirallas, his recent numbers suggest he would score far more goals than any of them.
Whether that develops or not, Naismith has certainly found his niche at Everton. In a slightly withdrawn, central role, he benefits from space left by defenders attracted to supposedly greater threats. As the likes of Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines and Mirallas stretch the field, and Lukaku draws in markers, Naismith is frequently left to profit.
Everton have gained a reputation for completing a number of savvy, low-cost deals over the past few years. Tim Cahill and Coleman will always spring to mind, as will Nigel Martyn. The longer Naismith’s rise continues, the sooner his free transfer from Rangers will join that conversation.