Tim Howard was thrust into stratospheric standing amongst Americans with his heroic performances at the World Cup. Lauded by all, branded as the “Secretary of Defense,” indulging in nonchalant phone calls with the President and co-commentating Premier League games for NBCSN; it’s little surprise the 35-year-old is bringing a book out in the coming weeks.
It’s wholly understandable that the American is revered amongst his compatriots and why criticism of him may rub some the wrong way. But somewhere between Howard’s perpetual thwarting of Belgium in Salvador in July and Everton’s recent 1-1 draw with Hull City, the goalkeeper has lost his way. And that’s why it’s important to look at this criticism through the eyes of an Evertonian (and a season ticket holder, at that).
Being beaten at his near post by Sone Aluko, the Toffees’ No. 24 let the Tigers score with their first and only shot on target in what was an abrasive 90 minutes served up by Roberto Martinez’s team. But this wasn’t an out-of-line instance, it was the latest unfortunate blip in what’s been a sorry season for Howard.
Myriad mistakes in a 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, two more in the moribund display at Tottenham Hotspur and a serious lapse in judgement have condemned Everton to defeats in the Premier League this season. An inability to set-up a wall appropriately in games against Liverpool and Sunderland have lead to the concession of vital goals, while plain naivety against Manchester United led to Falcao’s eventual winner.
Perhaps the adulation has gone to his head? Perhaps the lack of competition over the past few seasons has finally caught up with him? Maybe age is simply beginning to take it’s toll? Regardless, while Martinez has supported his goalkeeper in the public domain, it’s time to cast a ruthless eye over Howard’s poor form.
The American hasn’t been assisted by a fair portion of abject defending from those in front of him, and that’s another facet of the team Martinez must work diligently on to resolve. The long and short of it is that Howard is becoming more than hindrance for the Toffees; the coalescence of rudimentary mistakes have made him a plain liability.
Nonetheless, calls for him to be dropped have been swatted aside by many of a blue persuasion. The premise being that Howard’s potential replacement, Joel Robles, is not up to scratch. But such are the incompetent levels being displayed by Everton’s current first choice at the moment, his deputy—a man who Martinez brought in from Wigan on a five-year deal—surely couldn’t do much worse.
Indeed, it’s a ploy that worked for Manchester City last season. Joe Hart was clearly struggling for form and costing his side week after week, but Manuel Pellegrini had the foresight to take him out of the firing line. Costel Pantilimon came into the side, did well, but when the time was right, Pellegrini brought Hart back into the first XI. Since then, the England man scarcely put a hand or foot wrong.
Robles is a goalkeeper that was unconvincing in the scattering of appearances he made last season. But he’s a ‘keeper that was critical to Wigan’s FA Cup win under the tutelage of Martinez and at this juncture, a man who would be hard pressed to be quite as accommodating for opposing forwards as Howard; Everton have conceded four goals from the last ten shots on target faced in the Premier League.
For Martinez, it’s surely a no brainer. If Robles comes in and throws a couple into the back of the net, as dissappointing as it sounds, the team would be no worse off. And while Howard may not have much improving to do at the age of 35, perhaps being dropped would facilitate some recuperation, refocusing and eventually, a return to the side much more resemblant of the ‘keeper who kept a record number of clean sheets for the Toffees last season.
There’s often a reluctance amongst managers to drop a goalkeeper if they’re having a rough spell, which is understandable when you think of the bespoke and critical role they play in the team. But if a player is costing the side so regularly, at such important times in crucial games, they simply have to be given a reprieve.
Robles may not be the right man for the job in the long-term for Everton, but there’s no way of knowing unless he gets a decent run. If he’s not, Martinez needs to take a long hard look at the situation in January and seriously consider bringing a new goalkeeper to the club.
Howard has been an outstanding servant for Everton since he signed from Manchester United in 2007. He’s been a fine shot-stopper and a stalwart of a cohesive defence under the reign of David Moyes and the first season of Martinez’s reign. But the American’s recent struggles have gone beyond the point where he’s simply out of form and his haemorrhaging of goals is threatening to derail Everton’s campaign.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
You can listen to Matt, Peter McPartland and Dave Bennett discuss Howard’s form on “The Blue Room” here
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