Steven Naismith’s Happiness is Roberto Martinez’s Headache

All that Steven Naismith should have
wanted yesterday for his 29th birthday was a spot in Everton’s
starting eleven.

His hat-trick as a substitute against
Chelsea, combined with the Toffees’ personnel issues, make it likely that the
attacking midfielder from North Ayrshire, Scotland, gets his first start this
season in Saturday’s away tie at Swansea City.

“Scottish Messi” came out of
nowhere to torch the Blues for three goals in 81 minutes of play. Since joining
Everton in 2012 on a free transfer from soon-to-be-dissolved Rangers, Naismith
had settled into being a dependable, sometimes laudatory, substitute and
role-player with energy to burn and attitude to share. Put it this way, if the
pasty Scotsman with a bleached blonde buzz-cut was the guy in my street gang, I’d
want him brandishing the shiv in a turf war.

But being the ‘hustle’ guy, the
one youth coaches gush out their hearts over, doesn’t guarantee you much more
than garbage time without requisite technical skill. In the opening weeks of
the Premier League, Naismith had been Roberto Martinez’s first replacement for
strikers Romelu Lukaku and Arouna Koné. In four substitute appearances, he had
yet to tally.

He’s consistently called up to
Scotland’s national team, for whom he’s notched five goals in almost forty
appearances, but has recently been ineffective. He last played for the Tartans
on September 4. Gordon Strachan subbed him off embarrassingly early in an
abysmal 1-0 loss to Georgia, whose only previous win in Euro qualifying’s Group
D had been against the firemen, policemen, and customs officials of Gibraltar.

There was nothing new or notable
to expect from Steven Naismith before Saturday’s game. The storyline’s would scrutinize
the John Stones transfer controversy or José Mourinho’s latest mystical
babbling, and Naismith would be able to put in his workman’s 25 minutes in
relative anonymity.

That plan was pulled like Muhammad
Besic’s hamstring. However, within minutes, Naismith all of a sudden had an
A-List casting audition thrust into his face and more minutes to make an impact
than he knew how to use.

Perhaps the Chelsea-supporting
school yard bullies made his life miserable as a kid, but Naismith has
consistently shone against the Blues. In his Toffees career, Naismith has
dropped twice as many goals on Chelsea than any other Premier League team. Perhaps Roberto Martinez knew it, too, and was willing to reject Norwich City’s
8.5 million pound transfer deadline day bid for the possibility of Blues
beat-downs.

His first minutes on the pitch
were quintessential Naismith: chippy laps run around Chelsea’s defenders and
aggressive shoves and kicks to justify kicking a ball with
multi-kajillionaires. Had one early kick landed a few inches further to the
right, Bronislav Ivanovic would have been squealing for God and his mother like
an infant.

Battery aside, Naismith’s play on
Saturday had Chelsea’s conspiratorial supporters convinced (for what reason,
it’s tough to tell) that Besic had hurt himself on purpose. All just to sucker
Chelsea into a caged brawl with Naismith, if you’d believe them.

Goal #1: Naismith finds space
with the ball at the top of Chelsea’s penalty arc, sends Brendan Galloway through
down the left, and then leaps out from the gap between John Terry and Kurt
Zouma to head Galloway’s cross into the net.  


Goal #2 five minutes later:
Naismith is the terminus of a counterattack sweeping right to left before he
thumps a ground-ball from outside the box with his left—and weaker—foot past
Begovic into the right corner.


After reaching a brace in five
minutes, Naismith must have needed a break from scoring. He spent the next
sixty minutes of play only making penetrating runs and setting up teammates
with incisive passes. 

With goal #3 in minute 82, though, he completes a
‘perfect’ hat-trick. He tallies with a right-footed nutmeg on Begovic from an
extreme angle after darting through Zouma and Terry again to latch onto a Ross
Barkley through ball.


How must Roberto Martinez be
feeling after the win? Steven Naismith, his dependable twelfth man, became the
sixth Premier League substitute ever to score a hat trick, and he did it
against José. At
the same time, Everton’s had to admit two more patients to an already crowded
injury ward. Both Besic—this knock his second of the season—and Séamus Coleman
limped off the field Saturday with hamstring injuries. Besic himself had gotten
the start as a replacement for Tom Cleverley, who’ll be out several weeks with
ankle ligament damage.

Now on the wrong side of
September for panic purchasing in the transfer market, Martinez has Naismith
left as the best combination of effective and realistic in the midfield,
especially if his form from Saturday can even marginally hold. Kevin Mirallas,
Gerard Deulofeu, and Aaron Lennon are all skilled players best deployed on the
wings, not in center midfield’s carnage. Leon Osman’s time to shine was three
years ago, back when he was 32. To square the midfield hole with new defender
Ramiro Funes Mori would clog up Everton’s backfield and shift the team away
from Martinez’s preference to dominate the midfield. So then, the injuries plus
the beat-down he served Chelsea mean things are looking up for Naismith.


In the post-match conference,
Roberto Martinez glowed that Naismith “was ready for his moment when it arrived,
and he did it with style.” Martinez may kick himself a few times in the ensuing
weeks over Everton’s health insurance outlays, but it could be worse. Everton
didn’t have to beat Chelsea, or have Naismith notch a hat-trick. That calls for
a little birthday celebration, and I’m sure Scottish ‘Messi’ knows what gift he
wants this year.

Written by Samuel Patterson.– https://twitter.com/ScubaSamisalive

THE TURF