Naismith sneaks Everton into the next round

Posted by Luke O'Farrell


With last season's embarrassing FA Cup exit to Wigan still fresh in the mind, even more so against a Swansea side similar in style, there was a palpable sense of relief when the full-time whistle confirmed a 3-1 victory and safe passage into the next round.

The scoreline flattered those in blue to a degree, although Everton still managed to create and miss the better of the chances. Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas both squandering chances of the how-the-hell-did-he-miss-that variety.

Though the Gwladys Street chimed about marching towards Wembley, this was more of a drunken stumble in the direction of the capital. That the Blues must up their game to ensure a semifinal place goes without saying, especially with Arsenal standing in the way.

- Jolly: Three Things: Everton v Swansea
- Naismith inspires Toffees' triumph


Similar to a number of recent matches at Goodison, Everton struggled in the opening hour, seemingly gripped by fear and anxiety. Whether it is the pressure generated by a restless home crowd or a continued hangover from demoralising defeats on the road, several need an injection of confidence.

Whenever the ball spent any length of time in the possession of Joel Robles or his centre-backs, Swansea smelt blood, pressing and harassing their hosts into errors, with Steven Pienaar close to the most spectacular of own goals in the first half.

Not even debutant Lacina Traore flamboyantly back-heeling an early opener could calm nerves. Failing to heed the warning signs, Everton afforded the visitors too much time and space in midfield and Jonathan De Guzman soon restored parity.

And it was deserved parity, as a much-changed Swansea side more than matched the home side in the first half, with Alvaro Vazquez, in particular, troubling Phil Jagielka with clever movement in the early stages.

At the other end, in marked contrast to his teammates, who eventually improved as the match progressed, Traore faded as his lack of match fitness became apparent. Furthermore, despite standing a few inches shy of seven-foot, it is already clear that Traore was not signed for his aerial prowess.

Benefiting from an hour of football, his first competitive action since October, the hope now is that Traore can continue to build his fitness and provide another forward option for a side desperately short in the absence of Romelu Lukaku.

In the end, it was left to his replacement, Steven Naismith, to provide the added impetus in attack. Though unlikely to win any popularity contests, Naismith is at least beginning to offer much-needed goals to a side lacking otherwise.

At his best within sight of the opposition goal, Naismith seized on two defensive errors, scoring one thanks to an assured finish and winning a penalty with the other -- he then rounded off his eventful cameo with concussion and an early exit. Impressive in instinctive goalscoring situations, Naismith is developing into a useful option from the bench against tired opposing limbs.

Emphatically dispatching the penalty won by Naismith, Leighton Baines is Mr. Reliable from the spot with only one blemish on his penalty taking sheet. The full-back is also inching back toward his best in terms of individual performance, which can only be a good thing for manager Roberto Martinez.

Another key to victory, as ever, was midfield man Gareth Barry. More often than not, when Everton require a lift or an increase in tempo, Barry is the man to answer the call. And it was no different in this fifth-round clash; the loanee dragged his side into the ascendency during the second half, quickened the tempo of the passing, got his team on the front foot.

As such, thanks largely to the contributions of the above-mentioned, Everton settled after the two-goal lead had been established and coasted toward a quarter-final trip to the Emirates next month.

Entering the latter stages of the campaign, results are paramount. But winning without playing well remains the hallmark of late; the longer performances evade, the more of a concern it becomes. Everton require a return to form -- Stamford Bridge on Saturday would be the ideal starting point.

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