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 the task of 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 end 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 once 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.
Everton's next step on the road that they hope will lead to Wembley took them to Hertfordshire to take on Stevenage for the second time in cup competition this season. In a curious twist of fate, the two clubs were drawn together for their first ever meeting in the League Cup second round back in August, and this evening they faced off again, this time in the FA Cup Fourth Round.
Roberto Martinez made a couple of surprising yet understandable changes for this tricky tie at Stevenage, Hibbert starting, with Lukaku rested on the bench. The pitch didn't look too bad at the start as the teams changed ends and Everton kicked off, getting the ball up to Day early on. But Stevenage won an early corner.
It was nervy stuff inside the second minute, when Robles dropped the ball after poor play by Stones and the follow=up shot struck Stone rather than the Everton net, a real let-off. But up the other end, a shot in by Mirallas, followed by a good cross in from McGeady causing all sorts of problems, the ball spinning back to Naismith poaching on the goal area line, scooped the ball high into the home goal for Everton to take the lead.
Everton won a free-kick wide right but it came to nothing. Oviedo took a really heavy blow stopping Heslop just as he was about to shoot and appears to have broken his leg or ankle as a result, adding a massive blow to a continuing injury crisis for the Blues. Osman came on to replace him but from the free-kick, Robles had to make a fingertip save. they scampered up the other end and Osman at the far post lashed over when it looked easier to score.
Another fright came with a dangerous free-kick given away on the edge of the Everton area, Stevenage again coming close. But Everton were gifted a nice second goal for Naismith as he anticipated a nice ball from Osman that came rather easily through Ashton, and the Scot finished confidently under Day to give Everton a respectable first-half lead.
Hartley went in the book for a poor foul on McGeady who tried to chip in the follow-up. Six minutes of added time at the break to cover the Oviedo injury.
Johnny Heitinga came on to replace captain Phil Jagielka and as Everton strengthened their grip on the game, he was perfectly positioned to head home a very ambitious overhead kick from Mirallas that was way off target.
Naismith got booked for scoring his third goal... that was adjudged to be offside, presumably because he should have heard the whistle as he chipped the ball over Day. Ridiculous refereeing.
In an almost identical play, he got the ball caught among his feet and could not complete his hattrick. But Magaye Gueye made it four, played in by Osman, and taking his time to slide the ball home as he lost his balance,
Stevenage came close at the death, Robles making a fantastic stop with Heitinga on the ground trying to scoop the ball away from the Everton goalline, and a goalmouth scramble resulting in the Blues finally scrambling it away to safety.
A confident and professional display of superior football by the Blues in the end, despite the massive shock of Oviedo's horrendous injury.
Everton's next step on the road that they hope will lead to Wembley takes them to Hertfordshire this weekend to take on Stevenage for the second time in cup competition this season. In a curious twist of fate, the two clubs were drawn together for their first ever meeting in the League Cup second round back in August, and now they will face off again, this time in the FA Cup Fourth Round.
The Blues squeezed their way past the Boro in that first game at Goodison Park, requiring extra time before Marouane Fellaini's last goal for the club put them into the next round where, of course, they somehow lost to Fulham having dominated the first 45 minutes.
Five months further down the line – Monday night's poor performance notwithstanding – this Everton is a different proposition to the one that was still feeling its way into the Martinez era and hadn't yet benefited from the deadline-day acquisitions of Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry and James McCarthy. In the interim, they've lost just twice and it's that kind of invincibility that will make stand the Blues in very good stead in this season's FA Cup.
The trip to Broadhall Way does represent a potential banana skin, though, and the manner in which the performance of Martinez's side deteriorated in the second half at The Hawthorns on a poor pitch is something the manager should be mindful of as he prepares to deal with what promises to be an ever worse surface this weekend.
Having struggled to impose themselves against the Baggies when they couldn't dictate the game with their usual passing game, Everton will again need to mix things up while remaining tighter at the back then they were on Monday.
As big a factor as the playing surface at West Brom was the lengthening list of injuries and niggles afflicting Martinez's squad and he lost another important player to a hamstring strain when Seamus Coleman was taken off late in the 1-1 draw. Both he and Steven Pienaar are ruled out for the Stevenage tie and if Ross Barkley is to make an early return from his fractured foot, this surely won't be the game to do it. Evertonians would far rather he return to action in Tuesday's Anfield derby.
Given those absentees – and assuming he would want to – Martinez will have fewer options with regard to squad rotation than might otherwise be the case. John Stones will likely play right back in place of Coleman while one of Bryan Oviedo or Steven Naismith could get the nod in place of Pienaar in midfield. Aiden McGeady is probably still short on match fitness but Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas, as the only fit senior forwards, should start up front.
Martinez has shifted some pressure onto the League One outfit by suggesting that Stevenage start as favourites and there is no doubting the power of the FA Cup to spring surprises but this is a tie that Everton should win. The debate among Blues fans over whether they would prefer an FA Cup win over Champions League quaification will no doubt continue so it's up to the team to keep alive the possibility that we can achieve both!
Kick off: 5.30pm
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|Subs not used|
|Jagielka (Heitinga 46')|
|Oviedo (Osman 22')|
|Mirallas (Gueye 80')|
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