Everton earned an important three points in an English Premier League match against Fulham thanks to an impressive performance by Steven Naismith, which helped lead to a 3-1 victory.
The 27-year-old midfielder did not get the start for the road team, and the result was a 0-0 score at halftime. However, manager Roberto Martinez made a huge move at intermission, as noted by Fox Soccer Trax:
Naismith has replaced Barkley for Everton as second half begins— FOX Soccer Trax (@FOXSoccerTrax) March 30, 2014
It did not take long for Naismith to impact the match. Just five minutes into the second half, he was able to put Everton onto the scoresheet with a heads-up play after a corner kick:
GOOOAAALLL EVERTON! It's Naismith, who came on for Barkley at halftime, with a deflected volley. 1-0 Everton.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 30, 2014
Unfortunately, this will not go down as an official goal, according to the Premier League:
Naismith has to wait a little longer for his 3rd #BPL goal of the season, as his shot was deflected by Kvist onto Stockdale who turned it in— Premier League (@premierleague) March 30, 2014
Still, the score was caused by a ripped shot by Naismith. Already, fans were praising the play of the midfielder, including Bleacher Report's Dan Levy:
I take back everything I've said about Naismith! Well all the bad things.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) March 30, 2014
Of course, the talented player was just getting started. He was actively moving around the pitch, making quality passes that put his side in positions to score.
As the club's official Twitter account notes, he almost earned an assist to double Everton's lead:
Should be 2-0. Super pass from Naismith picks out Baines but his cross just eludes Lukaku. Still 1-0 #EFCFFC— Everton (@Everton) March 30, 2014
However, Fulham came back with an equalising goal in the 71st minute to make the score 1-1. Considering the home team entered the day in last place in the league table, Everton could not afford anything but a win.
The good news is another substitute stepped up as Kevin Mirallas put the team up 2-1 in the 79th minute. Despite a few challenges the other way, Everton were then able to double the lead to 3-1 when Naismith connected with a goal in the 87th minute:
NAISMITH AGAIN! He has Everton fans dreaming of the Champions League. 3-1, just 3 minutes left.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 30, 2014
Leighton Baines captured a loose ball in the box and centered it to Naismith, who was able to finish with a hit beyond opposing goalkeeper David Stockdale. While the first goal was removed from the books, no one will take the second one away as he continued a trend of strong performances in this rivalry:
Steven Naismith: Has now scored in 2 of his 3 appearances at Craven Cottage #EFC— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 30, 2014
Amazingly, Naismith almost scored another goal late but instead hit the woodwork:
89 mins: An excellent low drive from Naismith strikes the foot of the post. 4 mins added time to go 1-3 #EFCFFC— Everton (@Everton) March 30, 2014
Everton were able to hold onto the 3-1 victory to move one step closer to securing a spot in European competition for next year. The club sits four points behind Arsenal for fourth place, but they have played one fewer match.
Naismith explained that getting this final spot is a goal for the squad:
"We've believed all along we can compete for the Champions League places and that's what we'll continue to do" Steven Naismith - post match— Clint Wheeldon (@ClintWheeldon) March 30, 2014
At the very worst, it appears as though Everton are in good position to earn a spot in next year's Europa League at four points clear of Tottenham and six ahead of Manchester United.
As for Naismith, he clearly had one of his best performances of the season in this match, possibly earning him some more playing time going forward. Luke O'Farrell of ESPN noted that the substitute made a huge impact in the game:
Subs changed the game. Naismith's most complete display this season, easily the best he's looked on the ball. Howard and Stones excellent.— Luke O'Farrell (@lukeofarrell) March 30, 2014
If he can continue to perform at a high level like this, the Toffees have what it takes to continue their winning streak and move into fourth place in the league table.
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