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Everton is setting risky precedent by persisting with Tim Howard

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There seems to be something quite taboo when it comes to dropping high-profile players in the current age. The power players have in the game means the slightest discrepancy or disagreement can prompt some unrest, a few public quotes and eventually maybe even a transfer away.

Throughout his career at Everton, Tim Howard hasn’t ever showcased the traits of a man who would kick up a fuss if he was left out of the XI. But with the aforementioned facets considered, it’s perhaps understandable Roberto Martinez is looking to keep a figure he perceives to be vital in the first team and subsequently settled.

But at this juncture, Howard can’t be considered as a critical figure; if anything, throughout the entirety of this campaign—while some of Everton’s defending has also left much to be desired—the American stopper has been a hindrance to the Blues. His latest pair of errors against Leicester City cost the Toffees three points and sapped the momentum from a wonderful 4-1 win in the Europa League midweek. Sadly for the 35-year-old, this can no longer be considered as a blip, rather an emphatic regression.

Dropping Howard in the early stages of the season wasn’t deemed to be a feasible option in the eyes of a lot of Everton supporters, primarily due to the lack of quality options available for this bespoke role in the team. Back-up choice Joel Robles had resembled an erratic, unsettling presence during his scattering of appearances in the first team, but after the American was felled with an injury on Boxing Day, the Spaniard got his chance.

He seized it, too. While Howard was costing the Toffees almost a goal a game with his lack of authority, flimsy shot stopping and all-round rudimentary errors, Robles blossomed into a commanding presence.

The former Wigan Athletic man took the pressure of the back-four with some authoritative displays between the sticks and in the his last three Premier League games he kept three consecutive clean sheets.  Indeed, the 24-year-old’s showing away to West Ham United in the FA Cup was one of the standout individual performances in Everton’s season.

By comparison, Howard has only kept his goal intact in three of  his last 19 games. But despite these seemingly damning statistics, once he was fit, he was straight back into the team; already he’s conceded four in three, a trio of which he should have prevented.

Martinez admitted that the team “defended with fear” in their disappointing draw with the Foxes. Naturally, he refused levy his goalkeeper with the blame, but having the American between the sticks transcended a jitteriness into the back-four that’s been missing as of late; against effervescent attacking opponents like Liverpool and Crystal Palace, nonetheless.

Howard has been a fine player for Everton down the years and it’s sad to watch his recent demise; in the midst of a terrible season, the American’s string of poor performances is blemishing the legacy he’s left on Merseyside. But Martinez needs to shoulder some of the blame for the predicament the goalkeeper currently finds himself in too.

The injury to Howard gave the Catalan a chance to take a look at another option between the sticks without going through the fuss of dropping a senior player and apprehensions about Robles being thrown into the team—while he’s probably not the long-term solution to Everton’s goalkeeping issues—were abated by his consistent performances.

But bringing the man Martinez admitted was Everton’s undisputed no. 1 back in at the earliest opportunity was an unsettling decision.

Of course, there are some players who are automatic choices, but Howard isn’t one of them at the moment for the factors aforementioned. It doesn’t send out the right message to other squad members who are striving to make it into the first team either. Especially for a side like Everton, who should have spots up for grabs given the perennially horrendous domestic form.

Looking at the situation from the outside, what incentive do those on the fringes of the squad and up-and-coming stars have to break into the first team if longstanding figures are guaranteed a start regardless of form? And what does it say about the manager that he’s willing to withdraw a player—one he signed, no less—who seized his chance with distinction at the expense of someone who’s hemorrhaged goals for a prolonged period?

While Howard’s one-man mission to drag Everton into a relegation battle has turned many of a blue persuasion against him, it’s an issue that is souring the mood surrounding Martinez too. For a manager who is losing the confidence of a lot of supporters after an immaculate maiden campaign, that’s far from ideal and it’s one of many poor decisions that’s doing little to enhance the toxic atmosphere that’s engulfed Goodison Park this season.

How the Catalan handles this issue moving forward will be tantamount to salvaging something from this disastrous campaign. The Toffees aren’t out of the woods yet in the fight to avoid relegation, but there is still an outside chance of savoring some glory; barring a catastrophic collapse against Young Boys in the second-leg of their Europa League tie, they’ll be in the last-16 of the competition.

Based on recent, tangible evidence, Robles should be taking his place in goal for these critical games to come.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

 

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Murph

    February 24, 2015 at 8:45 am

    Makes one wonder why he really took an international break – Still love you Timmeeeeeeey!

  2. Iancransonsknees

    February 23, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Martinez is only reverting to type Matt, he’ll make Everton as defensively poor as Wigan were under his stewardship as sure as eggs is eggs.

    • Matt Jones

      February 23, 2015 at 2:21 pm

      Not sure on this. Defending hasn’t been that all-in-all. An extraordinary amount of individual errors have cost EFC this season, things that aren’t as attributable to the manager.

      When there’s the Stones-Jagielka axis at the back they’ve only lost one game all season, away to Chelsea.

      The team have shown throughout his tenure they can defend well, just been let down by momentary lapses.

  3. Flangeslammer

    February 23, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Every bit of criticism heaped upon Tim Howard in this article is without any real defense. He’s been poor.

    However, saying “Robles blossomed into a commanding presence” is just a ridiculous statement.

    It’s simple. Tim has played himself to the bench after Leicester. Whoever a squads backup is needs to be between the sticks the next few LEAGUE games to prove whether he can provide the stops that Tim Howard has proven he’s not stopping this year. The backup in this instance is Joel, so yes, by all means play him starting now.

    But don’t act like he’s a known commodity who has proven his worth. Where’s the mention of him laying on the floor yards away from the goal line as Jags cleared a ball going in clear off the line against Crystal Palace? Game should’ve been a draw at best without Jags play and not because of Joel’s. He was lost when called into action. How’d Joel look vs Krasnodar at Goodison in Europa league play?

    The current narrative regarding Joel is comically overstated to the positive, ignoring reality of his performances to simply slate Tim.
    However, that doesn’t mean that it’s Tim’s net to keep. He’s proven thats it cannot be his to keep right now. He needs to sit and watch and the #2 needs to prove that he can keep those goals out that were let in on Sunday.

    This is a big moment for Roberto, for sure. He needs to show that the Tim Howard we are seeing is not good enough for Everton’s #1. But it’s just funny to see how heavily to praise is being heaped upon Joel f’ing Robles ignoring the actual slip ups that he continues to show.

    • Matt Jones

      February 23, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      I honestly think he has been a commanding presence that flourished with a prolonged run.

      In that same Palace game he was extremely authoritative after the error you mentioned: claiming crossing, punching with purpose and helping take the pressure of the defence.

      I wrote he’s not without his flaws and is by no means a long-term solution. As noted above, I’ve stuck up for Howard for years, but at the moment, Joel is a much better option and should be in the team.

    • Iancransonsknees

      February 23, 2015 at 1:48 pm

      I think the whole Joel Robles thing is just wishful thinking. There’s still plenty of time left yet and Everton aren’t 100% safe.

  4. jtm371

    February 23, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Spot on Matt great article. When the players are playing well a good manager is not that important,but when players are not performing that is when the manager makes his money. Martinez has not been able to make the right moves. #1 move is to bench Howard he is past his prime and is costing Everton matches. Mirallas needs more than 15 to 20 minutes. It will be interesting how the rest of the season will play out.

  5. Lawrence Dockery

    February 23, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Wow, just another article to blast American soccer players.

    • jtm371

      February 23, 2015 at 12:26 pm

      Maybe if you watched yesterdays match you would know what the article is about. You also forgot the eurosnob tag. Howard was awful yesterday.

    • Matt Jones

      February 23, 2015 at 12:51 pm

      Not at all. I’ve stuck up for Howard a lot in seasons gone by, but his form is indefensible this campaign.

      He’s costing Everton almost a goal a game when he’s playing; even in the match yesterday he made other rudimentary errors that thankfully didn’t lead to goals purely because of Leicester’s profligacy.

      Martinez is equally culpable for persisting with him, though. Especially after Joel’s good form.

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