Oviedo's horror injury mars Everton stroll
Stevenage 0 Everton 4
Anything Liverpool can do this season, Everton, it seems, can do equally well, if not better. Having seen their local rivals dispose of lower-league opposition down in Bournemouth earlier in the day, Everton looked just as comfortable in easing past the challenge of League One Stevenage. With just one point between the fourth-placed Reds and sixth-placed Blues in the Premier League, Tuesday's Merseyside derby at Anfield is beginning to look as though it could be one of the pivotal matches of the season.
While Liverpool were close to full strength on the south coast, the Everton manager Roberto Martinez named a distinctly unfamiliar team. It included a first start of the season for Tony Hibbert at right-back, a debut for Republic of Ireland's Aiden McGeady as part of an advanced three in midfield, and Steven Naismith as a lone striker.
Before the game Martinez had insisted that, as the home team, Stevenage had to be considered favourites to win, ignoring the fact Graham Westley's team are bottom of League One. On the other hand, they did take Everton into an extra half hour before losing at Goodison in the second round of the League Cup back in August.
There was also, he added, a chance that Everton would be "bewildered by the bizarre atmosphere". Westley was probably not referring to the return to the commentary box of Andy Gray three years to the day after being sacked by Sky, though the presence of the former Scotland striker did prompt the weather Gods to unleash a rainstorm of spectacular proportions an hour before kick-off.
That the pitch took it surprisingly well was to Everton's advantage, though it was Stevenage who nearly took an early lead when Joel Robles failed to gather, and with the Everton goalkeeper on the floor, Lucas Akins saw his shot blocked by John Stones on the line.
What a difference it might have made, the more so when barely a minute later, Everton were in front. Kevin Mirallas saw his shot saved by Stevenage goalkeeper Chris Day, but McGeady was first to the rebound and pulled the ball back across goal for Naismith to prod home.
Soon afterwards the sight of Bryan Oviedo being taken off on a stretcher with what looked horribly like a broken ankle after his studs appeared to catch in the softening turf was a miserable one, though the Everton supporters were quickly distracted when Leon Osman sent Naismith clear through the middle. The Scot slid the ball past Day without fuss to score his second.
Westley's players stuck to their task, but having been fortunate not to fall further behind when Mirallas saw his left-foot shot saved by Day, the resulting corner was not properly cleared and John Heitinga – brought on for Jagielka at half-time – headed Mirallas's spectacular overhead cross past Day for Everton's third.
With Oviedo joining Seamus Coleman, Antolin Alcaraz, Ross Barkley, Steven Pienaar, Gerard Deulofeu, Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone on the sidelines, Martinez probably withdrew Mirallas for his own protection.
Francois Zoko drove narrowly wide as Stevenage continued to seek consolation but their supporters were heading out of the stadium long before the final whistle. The news that Oviedo had been taken straight to hospital prompted chants of sympathy and solidarity from the Everton fans, but the Costa Rican's injury apart, a day that had begun well for Everton with confirmation of the loan signing of striker Lacina Traore from Monaco until the end the season ended pleasingly when Magaye Gueye made it four with a left-footed shot.