After a difficult first twelve months at Goodison Park, Steven Naismith is beginning to shows signs of adapting to life in the Premier League. His performance on Saturday against Chelsea justified the early faith shown by Roberto Martinez, as he topped his influential display with a well taken goal.
It will take some time for Steven Naismith to win the full support of the Goodison crowd, but if he can perform consistently to the high standard he produced on Saturday the Evertonians will quickly forget the less than impressive start to his career. Naismith wouldn’t be the first to establish himself after a difficult opening to life at Everton. Toffee legend, Dave Watson endured a terrible time when he first arrived at Everton in the summer of 1986, but he put the taunts of the crowd behind him to enjoy a fabulous career, featuring over 500 times for the Blues.
Undoubtedly Naismith’s strongest quality is his natural willingness to work hard for the team. Even when he has struggled for form, he has never shirked responsibility and he has always given 100% for the cause. This was demonstrated throughout Saturday’s match with Chelsea.
His heat map from the win over the Londoners at the weekend provides an insight into the level of running Naismith completes in a normal Premier League encounter. His constant tracking up and down the right hand side of the Everton attack provided a dangerous attacking outlet which restricted Ashley Cole to a defensive role and provided Seamus Coleman with cover in defence to support and nullify the threat of Eden Hazard.
Martinez would like to instill a high level of intensity throughout his team, especially when Everton are not in possession of the ball. This high pressure game, favoured by the top German sides, relies upon the whole team pressurising the ball as high up the pitch as possible. The forward players need to track their runners and ensure that the team defends as one. Nowhere was this more evident than in the play of Steven Naismith. The Scottish international topped the match stats in a number of areas, but it was winning the ball for this team where he excelled. Naismith recovered the ball from the opposition on seven occasions; he intercepted play a further three times and won four out of five attempted tackles. The two graphics perfectly demonstrate his impact in stopping Chelsea from threatening the Everton goal.
But for all his and Everton defensive resilience, it was in attack where Naismith made the telling difference. In the battle of the two England left backs, it was Leighton Baines who emerged on top with Ashley Cole enduring a difficult afternoon. Much of that was due to the terrier like play of Naismith, who ensured Cole was operating from a withdrawn position for much of the match. Naismith won the majority of his aerial duels over the 89 minutes he was on the pitch and every single one against Ashley Cole. So dominant was Naismith, it wasn’t much of a surprise when Jose Mourinho decided to replace Cole midway through the second half.
It is however goals that win matches and again Naismith was on hand to score the only goal of the match, a header from point-blank range that he couldn’t miss after a brilliant move from the Toffees. Martinez will have been delighted with the goal, but he will have also been relieved to see his wide-men threaten the goal. Before the game, Martinez had spoken of a need to be more incisive, to be prepared to have a shot on goal and turn possession domination into three points. Naismith carried out these orders perfectly. Naismith attempted three shots on goal, scoring one, seeing one blocked and sending one comfortably wide of goal. This remains an area for improvement, but Naismith has demonstrated throughout his Everton career that he has an eye for goal.
The man of the match award was rightly awarded to Gareth Barry, who was simply outstanding throughout his debut match for the Blues. But Steven Naismith wasn’t far behind his new teammate, demonstrating a tremendous work ethic, an eye for goal and a will to succeed. The final graphic provides an indication of a players overall influence on the match. Not a single player in Blue was as influential as Naismith, long may it continue, with the former Rangers man enjoying a new leaf of life under Roberto Martinez.