Stevenage 0 - 4 Everton
Football can be a very cruel game. Having patiently bided his time behind the country's best left back for over a year following a move from FC Copenhagen, Bryan Oviedo was enjoying a break-out season in the Premier League under Roberto Martinez and looking forward to going to the World Cup Finals with Costa Rica this summer.
17 minutes into this FA Fourth Round tie at Stevenage with Everton in control following Steven Naismith's early goal, Oviedo suffered a freak injury that, in an instant, ended his season and puts his involvement with his country in Brazil in serious doubt. The 23 year-old nipped in to toe the ball away from Simon Heslop as he lined up a shot from distance and the Stevenage player swept through Oviedo's leg as his studs caught the turf, simultaneously breaking his tibia and fibula. It was a horrible moment, the gravity of the injury etched onto the faces of his teammates, and after seven minutes of preparation on the field, Oviedo was stretchered off and taken to hospital where the double fracture was confirmed.
That the Blues not only settled back down despite the circumstances but also saw the game out with a comfortable victory spoke volumes for their professionalism and focus.
With Sylvain Distin adding to the list of walking wounded late in the week, Roberto Martinez again tasked John Stones with starting in central defence, one the 19 year-old accepted and once again fulfilled with composure that defied his years. He was in the perfect place at the right time after just four minutes to block Lucas Akins's otherwise goalbound shot after Joel Robles had spilled the ball into the forward's path of under pressure from Francois Zoko.
What could have been an important moment at one end swung Everton's way a minute later at the other when Kevin Mirallas, the Blues' star performer on the day, drove forward and fired a low shot that goalkeeper Chris Day could only push into the path of full debutant, Aiden McGeady. The Irish international squared the ball to Naismith and he took one touch in the goalmouth's mud before slamming home to make it 1-0.
It was the last thing Stevenage boss Graham Westley would have wanted but it was the perfect start for Everton who could then set about controlling the tie on their terms. The injury to Oviedo could obviously have provided a critical distraction, especially after his replacement, Leon Osman, skied the ball over from close range just seconds after coming on, but Robles demonstrated his focus with a fine diving save to push Morais' direct free kick away from the corner of his goal in the 26th minute.
Six minutes later, it was 2-0 and, again, it was Naismith who delivered, latching onto Osman's throughball before prodding the ball under the advancing 'keeper with confidence. And after McGeady was "clotheslined" by Peter Hartley and the resulting free kick fell to him outside the box, the winger tried to float a shot over Day but his effort was comfortably caught.
With much of their initial fire extinguished, Stevenage provided less formidable opposition in the second half and Everton were content to spend long periods passing the ball among themselves despite the treacle-like Broadhall Way pitch. Mirallas provided the first moment of quality in the second period with a twisting run and shot that Day did well to push over the bar but the Blues scored again from the resulting corner.
Although Leighton Baines miscued when the ball was cleared to him just outside the box, Mirallas executed a superb overhead kick that fell to the unmarked John Heitinga in the penalty area. The Dutchman, a half-time substitute for Phil Jagielka who, Martinez explained after the game, had been removed as a precaution after he "felt" his hamstring, duly headed home, albeit via a heavy deflection off a defender to make it 3-0.
The tie was largely over by this point as a contest but Stevenage did rally in the final 20 minutes for a consolation goal but Zoko poked wide having done the hard part in chesting down Luke Freeman 's cross and Robles did well to push a deflected corner behind at his near post a few minutes later.
It was Everton who scored the goal's last game, though, and Osman was the provider again, slotting a perfect pass to substitute Magaye Gueye who took advantage of the opportunity of a rare appearance by holding off the attentions of his marker and slotting past the 'keeper.
Robles's goal came under one last assault in the final minute of normal time, the Spaniard getting a hand to Darius Charles's shot and a combination of Heitinga in the mud on the line and the goalkeeper kept the ball out and preserved the clean sheet.
So, a 4-0 victory earned on a heavy pitch saw Everton into the FA Cup Fifth Round but Martinez will go into Tuesday's Merseyside derby counting fit bodies and ruing more bad luck in the form of another long-term injury. The loss of Oviedo, a versatile presence offering options at left back and both sides of left midfield, may yet prompt the manager back into the transfer market, therefore, but he will he be buouyed by the imminent returns of Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu.
Even so, the squad feels a little thin with key injuries threatening Everton's charge on two fronts for Champions League qualification and the FA Cup. Today proved no problem, with second-string players playing a key role in a comfortable victory but things only get more challenging from here. Time to dig deep – hopefully into the war chest as well – and find the resolve to push on regardless of the obstacles thrown in our path by the footballing gods.
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793 Posted 26/01/2014 at 00:04:32
797 Posted 26/01/2014 at 00:28:11
Missed the second half and would like to know what people thought of McGeady's performance - first half seemed ok and he got in a few useful crosses if I remember rightly.
Roll on the draw - let's hope we are at home again.
832 Posted 26/01/2014 at 02:50:51
Brin, I thought McGeady did pretty well in the second half, and he particularly surprised me with his fitness -- he was making long runs even into the late minutes, and may be in much better shape than we thought. And with Oviedo's injury he suddenly becomes even more crucial.
It also warmed my heart to see Hibbo back and looking so sharp after his seemingly endless layoff.
839 Posted 26/01/2014 at 03:40:32
A couple of times though in the second half I thought he lacked a bit of pace, especially on one occasion when we were counter-attacking and he was beaten to a good through-ball by the Stevange defender, that being said it was his first full 90 minutes for some time so he'll only get better fitness-wise. Generally McGeady showed some nice touches, put in one good cross at least from memory and of course he got the assist for the first goal.
Despite the injuries, I'm still optimistic for the derby. Naismith behind Lukaku with Pienaar and an in-form Miralles on the flanks; Osman has proved this season he is a good player for a second-half cameo and McGeady is another option off the bench.
A lot will rest on Rom's shoulders for Tuesday night though, so let's hope the weekend rest has done him the world of good.
845 Posted 26/01/2014 at 03:59:44
856 Posted 26/01/2014 at 06:25:48
People have been saying all season long we don't have enough strength in depth. RM's belief in youth is laudable, but they also have to be playing to gain experience, and they won't get that sat on the bench for the first team. If it's true that the McCarthy signing wasn't conditional on Felli moving out, then RM must have a veritable war chest, in Everton manager terms.
Of course RM won't rock the boat - Bill's managers never do, they have a job security and salary that many of their peers can only wish for. Funny how OFM frequently lamented that January is a bad time to buy, as he completes one £37m transfer, and is trying to get another one done for £22.5m (which at least means he's moved on from Baines).
Over to you Bill.
860 Posted 26/01/2014 at 07:34:24
We haven't got great depth in the squad but Martinez isn't joking when he says that all the players need to be ready to step in and step up when required.
Oviedo was the first example of this, and Hibbo just confirmed it to me - last night he took control, was marshalling the defence, looked totally focused and physically looked fit as a butchers dog. I thought it was really noticeable, he was a real credit to himself and the manager.
Shocking injury for Brian last night, every Evertonian will be wishing him well, but hopefully the footballing Gods, as Lyndon says, can start smiling on us a bit and the team we take to Anfield is capable of getting the three points.
870 Posted 26/01/2014 at 08:44:52
With regards to Roberto's comments when the window opened, that was then, this is now. It might be a little late, and much depends on availability of players over the next few days.
878 Posted 26/01/2014 at 09:57:29
943 Posted 26/01/2014 at 13:37:48
Best wishes to Oviedo, hope he recovers well.
On Gueye, surprised to see him come on but I'll be interested to see how he fairs under Martinez. I always felt I played with fear under Moyes, could be another player to step up?
Liked McGeady, I think he will offer us more attacking options, as posted earlier he tired in the second half but him for 60 mins and then Del Boy for 30 will do me.
Great to Hibbert back, looked solid and showed great leadership skills. As for Stones, the lad looks such a player, I would love to see him start more games.
Home draw please.
294 Posted 27/01/2014 at 09:03:43
This really took the shine off what was a very comfortable win.
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