Tim Howard’s career at Everton appears to be winding down and yet Roberto Martinez is almost certain to return the United States international to the starting XI on Saturday, when the Toffees host West Brom.
That’s despite Howard’s replacement, Joel Robles, having kept three clean sheets in a row as Everton recorded 3-0 wins over Carlisle United, Newcastle United and Stoke City. The standard of opposition might not have been the highest – a League One side in the FA Cup, Premier League strugglers the Magpies and the out-of-form Potters – but the fact remains, Everton’s defensive record in the games Howard has missed has been exemplary.
Howard has been strongly linked with a return to his homeland for some time, and rumours persist that he’ll be a Colorado Rapids player by the time Everton begin next season. He’s been a fine servant to Everton since a 2007 move from Manchester United but the last 18 months or so have been diminishing returns. Martinez insists on his team playing out from the back and goalkeepers willing and able to take possession from his defence, neither of which suit the 36-year-old’s game.
The veteran has strong reflexes when called upon to make saves but distribution is a problem, and there is an audible in-take of breath at Goodison Park when the ball is played back to him under pressure. More than once Howard has turned over the ball in a dangerous area, or played his defence into trouble by off-loading the ball in a position far from advantageous. It’s a symptom of the style Martinez wants, but it’s part of why Everton are mid-table with more than half the season gone.
Decision making is the other aspect of Howard’s game that has Evertonians on edge. It’s a lottery as to when he comes for the ball and when he doesn’t, and what he does if he gets there – and it’s a big if. Ironic cheers have been heard when Howard successfully completes a catch, not pleasant for a home goalkeeper but regular visitors to Goodison have been left wondering what Howard has to do to be dropped.
In the end it was a knee injury that gave Joel an extended run in the team but Howard seems likely to return at the first opportunity. The same thing happened almost exactly a year ago, when a Howard injury saw his Spanish colleague get a few consecutive games to find his feet, and he impressed.
But then it was back to the bench for the former Wigan and Atletico Madrid shot-stopper. He’s much younger than Howard – 26 this summer – and seems happy to bide his time. But the Everton supporters are far less patient, some even counting the days until Howard is in MLS.