Not long after signing Ross Barkley to a four-year contract, the midfielder suffered a ligament injury that sidelined him for several weeks. The optimism that had surrounded the upcoming season was quickly diminished and Evertonians were left to wonder how the club would fare without their star midfielder.
There is however, a silver lining to this bad news. Without the injury to Barkley we would not have been treated to the wonderful performances that Steven Naismith has put forward in recent weeks.
Naismith had trouble finding his true place when he initially joined Everton, as he was often played out of position either as a wing player or lone striker. He did find some success last season in these positions either as a substitute or as a replacement when Romelu Lukaku went down with an injury. But there were several games where his lack of size meant that he was unable to impose himself on the opposing defense.
This season, Naismith has been asked to take on the difficult task of occupying Barkley's role behind the striker. Despite Barkley's age and lack of experience, the midfielder burst on to the scene last year, dazzling supporters with his fantastic dribbling and beautiful goals. Clearly Naismith had some pretty big shoes to fill and so far this season he has done an amazing job.
Naismith has now scored in every Everton competition except the match against West Brom (yes, I'm crediting the Wolfsburg own goal to Naismith), and so far there are no signs of him slowing down. He has taken advantage of playing off a big striker like Lukaku which allows him to make clean runs in the box. And since he is not the main focus of the defense, he is able to get open easier and takes advantage of great passes from his teammates.
He may not have the flair for the dramatic that Barkley does, nor is he a particularly flashy player. But Naismith is an effective player, he makes solid passes, doesn't keep the ball to long and generally seems to know his limitations as a player. He fits in remarkably well in Roberto Martinez's style of play and has reaped the rewards of his manager's belief in him.
Many fans were worried about finding a replacement for Barkley in the transfer window. It is now clear why Martinez didn't seek a replacement, he had one the whole time. Naismith may not be the sexy pick, but so far, he has been the right one.