It seems strange to be discussing the virtues of a player who earlier in the season scored a hat-trick against the current champions of England, however Steven Naismith’s season, with the exception of that incredible afternoon at Goodison Park, has been a struggle, firstly on the pitch, where he hasn’t found the required consistency in his performances and secondly and most prominently, a struggle to find a place in a young, exciting and exuberant Everton team.
Between now and the closing of the transfer window, Everton have to play at least ten matches in just 39 days (possibly eleven if they progress in the FA Cup), the equivalent of a game every four days. It is likely therefore that Roberto Martinez will need to fully utilise his squad and those players on the fringes are likely to the get the chance to impress and to convince the manager and supporters that they have a long term future at Everton. Naismith of course, is one of those fringe players and will be doing all he can to convince Martinez that he is worth another chance.
Naismith of course, very nearly departed in the summer transfer window. A generous offer from Norwich of approximately £8m tempted Everton, only for the offer to be rebuffed due to a lack of cover within the squad. Naismith immediately justified the manager’s faith, scoring a hat-trick in the very next game against Chelsea. Remarkably Naismith wasn’t even in the starting eleven that day, the Scot stepping off the bench to make a match changing impact. Since that game his form drifted and he fell out of favour, especially as the Blues form, although not the results, improved.
Some commentators and columnists have suggested that Naismith hasn’t been given opportunity to impress since scoring those three goals. But that isn’t true! Following the Chelsea match, Naismith started the next four games against Swansea, West Brom, Liverpool and Manchester United, failing to sparkle in any of those matches. Naismith in particular had a poor game against Manchester United. After spending the majority of the first half conceding possession, Martinez hooked the former Rangers man at half time and he hasn’t regained his place since.
Naismith himself recognises the desperate situation he finds himself, with several players performing exceptionally well in the attacking positions. Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Naismith explained how impressed he has been with the Everton forwards.
“I love going in everyday and training with this squad. It’s probably the first time I’ve sat back and thought that I’m now one of the older guys in the team.
“We have all these young guys, they have no fear, they don’t care who they are playing against and they just go and play their own game. It is amazing to see that.
“So if I’m not playing and I’m on the bench, I love watching these lads.
“Take the Norwich game, Stonesy is driving out from the back, he beats a player and then Brady comes to close him down. He’s quite vulnerable at that point but he’s so comfortable, he never panics, and he nutmegs him!
“There are so many things that happen in games. Some of the runs Ross goes on, the touch for Rom’s goal at home to Villa and the finish. It is amazing and I love watching it because I love football and I love my mates improving. They are going to be top class players.”
“It is hard to take when the team are winning and you are on the bench and not featuring.
“I’ve had a couple of bad injuries in my career and I know how frustrating and tough it can be when you’re not able to play, but I’m not injured, I’m fit but can’t get into the team.”
The options for including Naismith are diminishing. Injuries permitting, he certainly won’t be selected ahead of Lukaku in a central striking role, Deulofeu has earnt the wide right position and Barkley has been in sensational form for much of the season in the role behind Lukaku. That only leaves the left forward positon up for grabs, with Kone, Mirallas and possibly Cleverley in competition for that role.
The recent draws have certainly increased the clamour for Naismith to be given another opportunity to stake a claim for a place and that may well come against Leicester at the weekend. Naismith certainly provides an element of solidity defensively and if he is deployed on the left, Leighton Baines will appreciate the cover, however it is going forward where he will be expected to make an impact if he is to retain his place.
If Naismith truly desires regular first team football, and it would appear from his recent comments he does, then I fear that time is ticking on his Everton future. The Blues have evolved since he arrived on a free transfer from Rangers and unfortunately one of the nicest guys in football will probably have to continue his career away from Goodison Park.