LIVERPOOL -- A trio of thoughts on Everton's 3-1 FA Cup fifth-round win versus Swansea.
1. Naismith is one of Everton's unsung heroes
Steven Naismith neither started nor finished the game, but he decided it and, for once, the limelight should linger firmly on him. Normally it is easy to overlook the Scot.
He plays in positions where Everton possess enviable class, in the shape of Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas; huge promise, in Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu; proven excellence, in the perennial Leon Osman; and a recent signing, in Aiden McGeady, who is a player Roberto Martinez had pursued for a year.
In contrast, Naismith is a resolutely unglamorous figure, acquired on a free transfer because of Rangers’ financial meltdown. He is a big name north of the border, but nowhere else. He is also a player who, quietly, is having a considerable impact on Everton’s season.
He delivered manager Martinez’s first league win, scoring the only goal against Chelsea and, after their Merseyside derby trouncing, he came off the bench to equalise against Aston Villa.
In another vital cameo, Naismith turned this FA Cup tie Everton’s way. He capitalised on Neil Taylor’s misjudged back pass to put them ahead and was hacked down for the penalty Leighton Baines scored to clinch victory. The victim of several heavy tackles and a blow to the head, Naismith went off before the final whistle. His work was done. The game was transformed.
He is due more credit. So, too, is Martinez, who deploys his substitutes with great intelligence and it is no coincidence they score so frequently. Now Everton advance to the last eight of the FA Cup. As it will feature only three of the top dozen teams in the current Premier League standings, it offers an opportunity for Martinez to do something David Moyes was never able to achieve: bring a trophy to Goodison Park.
2. Traore makes an immediate mark
It was the finish of a flair player from the man with the physique of a giant. Lacina Traore’s opening act as an Evertonian was both strange and significant. The 6-foot-8 arrival backheeled them ahead with unexpected deftness and, four minutes into his Goodison Park career, he already had more goals than summer signing Arouna Kone.
Traore was lurking four yards from the net, ready to convert in inventive fashion when found by Sylvain Distin. After games when, with Romelu Lukaku injured, the line was led by wingers Mirallas and Naismith, Everton finally have a striker again. The Ivorian loaned from Monaco is an idiosyncratic attacker, too; his frame makes him unusual.
Traore perhaps suffered from his size when he could have scored a second within the opening quarter. Seemingly unable to adjust his footwork in time to get the right angle on his header, he picked out goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel from the rebound after Pienaar struck the woodwork.
Time will tell whether the slick goal or the ungainly attempt to add another gives a truer indication of Traore’s prospects at Goodison Park. His talents extend to 50-yard cross-field passes but, given his height, he won fewer headers than might have been expected. With Lukaku due to be fit again soon, he may not have many more opportunities to start. In the meantime, his every outing has a novelty value.
But Traore’s swift start continued a theme this season. Lukaku, too, scored on his Everton debut. Deulofeu struck on his first start and Gareth Barry was man of the match on his bow. It all suggests Martinez has produced an ideal environment for newcomers to flourish as well as signifying that the Spaniard has something of a Midas touch in the transfer market.
3. Swansea have greater priorities
For Swansea, all eyes were on a game against a team managed by a Spaniard who flourished on Merseyside. Not Martinez and not Everton, however. Thursday’s Europa League meeting with Rafa Benitez and Napoli marks part of their reward for winning last season’s Capital One Cup. Their grueling European run -- or rather, its knock-on effect on their Premier League fortunes -- contributed to Michael Laudrup losing his job.
His stand-in successor, Garry Monk, took the view that the FA Cup came in a distant third behind the domestic league and the continental competition. So, too, did the club's fans: only 300 or so traveled from Wales to witness what was almost a second-string side in action.
Monk made eight changes, with the entertainingly hapless Alvaro Vazquez deputising for top scorer Wilfried Bony in attack and a defence doing remarkably little marking in the opening period. Swansea struck courtesy of one of their classier acts, Jonathan de Guzman, who is seen in the first team rather more often. But errors from Taylor and Richards, the second-choice full-backs, brought about their defeat.