Everton’s comprehensive 4-0 FA Cup win over Stevenage Borough was overshadowed by a harrowing injury to Bryan Oviedo.
Roberto Martinez’s men cruised into the 5th round of the competition thanks to a brace from the clinical Steven Naismith and substitutes Johnny Heitinga and Magaye Gueye.
But the sight of fan-favourite Ovideo being stretchered off with a double leg fracture, and Phil Jagielka being hooked off at half-time, left Blues fearing for a squad further depleted by injury.
With the 222nd Merseyside derby just three days away, Martinez rotated a squad already without the likes of Ross Barkley, Steven Pienaar and Seamus Coleman. Joel Robles kept goal while Tony Hibbert made only his third appearance of the season at right-back.
There was also a start for new signing Aiden McGeady, a sight for sore eyes considering the glut of players consigned to the treatment room, while Steven Naismith was given an opportunity to argue his case for a start as centre-forward.
Striker Lacina Troare was confirmed on Saturday as Everton’s last piece of business in the transfer window, but a hamstring injury will keep the Ivorian out for another couple of weeks. So it was only right that Naismith got the nod with the over-worked Romelu Lukaku rested ahead of Tuesday’s trip across Stanley Park.
And the Scot was lively from start to finish, preying on the shoulder of the last Stevenage defender and popping up in pockets of space between the last line and midfield. Likewise Kevin Mirallas was starting to thrive in a new central role behind the forward and the two combined to set Everton on their way in the fourth minute.
The Belgian dummied a pass which was eventually laid off by Naismith for him to shoot at goal. Keeper Chris Day could only parry and Naismith was in the right place to turn in after McGeady put it back across goal.
Everton’s joy was turned to heartbreak for Oviedo when the winger tried to block a Simon Heslop shot. The reaction of the surrounding players told the story and the stretcher was immediately gestured for. The double leg break is sure to end any hopes the Costa Rican had of playing in this year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
Leon Osman replaced the winger and played his part in doubling Everton’s lead. His precise through ball should have been dealt with by Jon Ashton but Naismith capitalised from his mistake and finished smartly underneath Day.
It was a very cool finish and served to show the Everton faithful that he has more in his locker than just work rate.
Stevenage never really looked like upsetting the visitors as both teams tried to come to terms with a pitch that cut-up with ease.
With half-time came another worrying sight, as captain Jagielka took up a seat on the bench while Heitinga slotted into centre half alongside John Stones. It would seem the switch was down to a precaution however, with the England defender complaining of a tight hamstring, and is likely to be fit for Tuesday’s derby.
Few envisaged that Heitinga would still be at the club at this point in the window, probably no more so that the man himself. But it was the Dutchman, who has been linked with a return to Holland with PSV Eindhoven today, who made sure of Everton’s FA Cup passage just as he did in this round last year at the Reebok Stadium.
Mirallas’ audacious overhead kick was headed in by Heitinga who looked as surprised as anyone to have got his name on the score sheet. Lets consider it a parting gift shall we?
Everton looked more and more comfortable with the bobbles and divots of the poor playing surface as the game wore on and were passing it around Stevange with ease.
Another forgotten man, Gueye was introduced for the brilliant Mirallas with nine minutes to go and the Frenchman earned himself a goal just minutes later, latching onto a delicate Osman through ball before cutting inside and firing beyond Day.
It was as good a performance as the travelling Blues could have hoped for considering the media attention which sought a giant-killing at Broadhall Way. And the result was in no way flattering of a performance which included some encouraging displays from a number of fringe players.
Let’s just hope those in the treatment room are back sooner rather than later as Everton next bid to wrestle their Stanley Park rivals from fourth place.