For Everton fans it was bad when Steven Gerrard thumped home Liverpool’s opener in the January 28th Merseyside derby but it was doubly painful when Romelu Lukaku collapsed to the ground holding his ankle.
Initially it looked like ligament damage but those fears were later removed when it was diagnosed as a bad sprain. And now, after three weeks of care, the Belgian striker is healthy and ready to go.
“Romelu Lukaku is fully fit now and it’s just a matter of making sure that we get him back to his level of match fitness that he needs,” Everton manager Roberto Martinez explained on Tuesday.
While the Toffees will be without Lukaku this Saturday when they face off against the striker’s parent club, Chelsea, the loan star is set to return on March 1st against West Ham United.
“It helps in a way that he’s not available for this weekend because this game may have been a little bit too early for him to be involved with the team. But now we’ve got nearly two weeks to make sure that he’s fully fit for the next home game and that’s very much a realistic target.”
In Lukaku’s absence Everton defeated Aston Villa 2-1 and lost to Spurs 0-1 in the league, while also defeating Swansea City 3-1 in last weekend’s FA Cup.
The silver-lining from Lukaku’s injury is that an unlikely hero has emerged among the Toffees in Steven Naismith. The plucky Scot scored the game-winner against Villa just four minutes after being substituted into the match, a move he replicated against Swansea when he came on in the 61st minute and put away the match-winner in the 65th.
Naismith is one of those players who, given his look and lack of size, takes an unfair amount of grief. But the winger-come-striker has the uncanny ability to score big goals (see his history in the Merseyside derby) and is a constant menace to opponents. A religious hustler with a decent touch, clever ideas and the will to insert himself into the most dangerous situations, Naismith is the archetypal ‘super sub’.
On Sunday, Naismith suffered a concussion after taking a strong blow to the head from Swansea’s Jordi Amat. After the first replay was shown on TV, there was little question Naismith was in trouble. His eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed to the ground. It was yet another incident of a Premier League club failing to immediately remove a head injured player but Naismith, ever the warrior, continued on for a few minutes before becoming so out-of-sorts that he just plumped down on the turf.
If healthy enough to go on Saturday, Naismith may lead the line for the Toffees. More likely he’ll provide that pest-like punch off the bench when 6’8″ Lacina Traore needs a breather.