Howard deserves criticism for his performance against Chelsea
Asking for improvement from a goalkeeper who has conceded six goals isn’t brain surgery. For the last couple of seasons, Tim Howard has been rightly heralded as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. His performances in the World Cup, particularly against Belgium, elevated him to icon status in the USA. While doing interviews with non-soccer-savvy radio hosts, I found myself inundated with questions about Howard’s history within the sport. Howard deserves his time in the sun, but his performance against Chelsea shows why Manchester United was happy to offload him 10 seasons ago.
While Howard can be a tremendous shot-stopper, he is prone to lapses in concentration and this was evident in the entertaining 6-3 loss to Chelsea. For the first goal, Diego Costa rolled the ball through Howard’s legs, who clearly should have done better. For both Costa’s and Ramires’ goals (Chelsea’s 5th), Howard should have come off his line to close the angle of the shot. His hesitation contributed to both Costa and Ramires having more time on the ball, as well as having a greater arc to shoot at. Howard will argue that for the pivotal 3rd goal, Coleman’s deflection caught him off balance. While that is certainly true, Howard made no attempt to stop the ball. Yet again, Howard’s positioning cannot be questioned – there was the requisite arm length between him and his near post. And therefore, any shot played near post would be within his reach. Had Howard stuck out a hand or a foot at the ball, perhaps he could have knocked it out for a corner. Perhaps it was a case of giving up the ghost, but the veteran will be disappointed at his non-action for the Coleman goal.
Happy to see referees take on embellishment
For me, referee Lee Mason got the two big decisions in Stoke City’s shock win against Manchester City right.
For the first decision, Mame Biram Diouf appealed for a penalty as he was brought down by Aleksandar Kolarov. On first view, it seemed that Kolarov had fouled the ex-Manchester United player. However, replays seemed to suggest that Kolarov may have got a touch on the ball before he tripped the Stoke City forward. More importantly, it was clear that Diouf was on his way down before Kolarov made contact. With governing bodies dragging their feet on the oft-debated and much-needed retrospective punishments for diving and embellishment, it is pleasing to see referees taking a firm stance on the issue. Too often, we see players anticipating the foul and going down before contact is made. Sometimes, there is no contact, and calling that a dive is universally accepted. However, if contact IS made, we enter a grey area of whether or not a penalty should be awarded. In my opinion, the decisions this season suggest that referees are less likely to give PKs than before. The decisions in this game – with Diouf and similarly with Yaya Toure – support that hypothesis. Both were penalty shouts. In both cases, the player was going down before contact was made. In both cases, no penalty was awarded. And, in both cases, last season, the referee would have probably pointed to the spot.