Ironic cheers from supporters form a key part of the soundtrack to modern day soccer, but it’s rare to hear home fans direct these jibes in the direction of their own players.
Tim Howard and Everton fans are a special case at the moment, though. Applause and whoops rung out from the Gwladys Street when the United States international came and claimed a cross midway through the first half during the 4-3 loss to Stoke City, having hopelessly flapped at rudimentary ball into the box just seconds earlier.
The response from the 36-year-old, who is one of the most experienced goalkeepers in English game, was to sarcastically applaud the fans behind the goal, then turn and tread back towards his goalmouth, shaking his head in their direction.
It’s not the first time Howard has interacted with the Everton supporters in that section of the stadium in recent weeks. The American reacting slowly or being rooted to his line has been a common occurrence at Goodison Park this season, and the fans, as is the case with any player, will make their frustrations known if errors are made.
Most just get on with the game, but Howard has decided to bark back to supporters, gesturing at some to calm down on more than one occasion. It’s behavior which has only sought to rile supporters further, adding momentum to the opinion that the former Manchester United man is finished as a top-level goalkeeper.
Of course, in an ideal world, supporters would be emphatically behind their own players for the duration of the match, but such is the disillusionment with the man between the sticks. It’s tough to keep emotions in check, especially during a pulsating contest as was the case Monday against Stoke City.
Indeed, we only need to look to the second half for an example of why there are so many supporters who want Howard out of the side. With Everton battling back brilliantly from 2-1 down to lead 3-2, the American parried a cross straight into the path of Joselu, who equalized. It was a critical point in the game and once again, a moment in which the ‘keeper was found wanting.
Over a year ago, I penned an article for World Soccer Talk calling for Howard to be removed from the firing line and still the issue remains unaddressed by Everton manager Roberto Martinez.
Granted, the goalkeeper is not the sole issue in a team which has been hapless in defense this term, but he’s been a key contributor to some of the woeful goals this team has conceded. The list of mistakes made by the American is a long one, and the bald facts show that in 2015-16, whenever Everton have been leading a game by one goal, Howard has yet to save a shot on target.
Sarcastically sniping at those fans who have supported him for years is indicative of a man who knows he’s under no pressure to perform. “It’s water off my back,” bullishly claimed the ‘keeper earlier this term when asked about building criticism. “My numbers and record will speak for themselves.”
Indeed, the crux of the issue is that for all Howard’s errors, the detrimental effect he has on the back four and the fact a capable young goalkeeper is sat on the bench, Martinez has persisted with him.
After Joel Robles had a storming game in the League Cup against Norwich City, making a string of saves during the game and helping Everton win the tie on penalties, the Everton boss said there’s “not even a doubt” that Howard would be returning to the team despite two glaring errors from the goalkeeper at Arsenal just days before. That attitude sends out an awful message to those players on the periphery of the first team pushing for a regular start.
It’s an issue which many predicted would eventually become critical for the manager, and we’re fast approaching that point. While there are a host of other frailties preventing Everton from realizing their potential at the moment, the choice of goalkeeper and all the connotations this blind faith carries has been Martinez’s biggest shortcoming with the Toffees.
Howard has been a tremendous servant for Everton, and during the David Moyes era, he was one of the most capable ‘keepers in the league. But we’ve seen when even the best players reach the twilight of their career, there is a point when form suddenly plunges, and they’re never the same again. Sadly, the United States international is well beyond that point.
And the toxic situation being created by Martinez’s persistence with Howard is souring what should be fond recollections for Evertonians of a fine goalkeeper. The manager, for the sake of the player, the team and his own future, must take decisive action in the immediacy to prevent this farcical situation from getting any worse.
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