Competition needed to lift Howard

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

no_source / Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty ImagesTim Howard: Errors are creeping into his game of late

Former Everton forward Andy Gray once said: "We had Neville Southall, we knew we weren't going to concede many goals". The one-time fan favourite was right with Southall keeping 269 clean sheets during his illustrious Everton career. Between 1983 and 1998, Everton managers could focus on other positions with Southall firmly cemented as Everton's number one.

- USA U20 keeper MacMath training with Everton

After the Welshman's Everton career ended, the club struggled to replace him. Thomas Myhre, Sander Westerveld and Richard Wright are just a handful of those who tried and failed to fill Southall's gloves. Everton eventually filled the void in 2003 with the signing of veteran Leeds keeper Nigel Martyn. Despite being in the twilight of his career, Martyn was vital in helping the Toffees finish fourth in 2005. Upon his retirement in 2006, David Moyes described Martyn as his "greatest ever signing", such was his impact.

Having temporarily filled the Southall void with Martyn, Moyes had to start looking for a permanent solution and his search led him to Manchester United's Tim Howard. The American had slipped down the Old Trafford pecking order and he arrived on loan with a permanent deal secured when the season finished.

Established as the Everton number one, Howard's impressive form earned him international honours with the USA keeper earning 83 caps, with 29 clean sheets to date. An exceptional shot stopper, many see Howard as one of the best in England and rightly so. Unfortunately, the first real cracks in Howard's form are beginning to appear; something an already shaky Everton defence can ill afford.

In terms of weaknesses, Howard is prone to errors on free kicks. Whenever Everton concede a set-piece within 30 yards of goal, my faith in Howard evaporates and a sense of fear takes over with a goal almost expected. This was evident in Saturday's draw at Fulham with regards to the home side's opening goal. Although well struck, Howard should have kept out Bryan Ruiz's free kick.

The other main weakness in Howard's game is crosses and balls into the box. Never one of the league's most commanding goalkeepers, Howard has a tendency to remain rooted to his line. The problems begin when he attempts to command his area, as he looks lost. For the recent goal against Southampton, Howard flapped at a corner as the ball went over his head.

This season, the Everton defence is struggling with 13 goals conceded in the league. Unable to find a settled centre-back pairing, Everton need their goalkeeper back to his best with these individual errors eradicated from his game.

The main problem for Moyes is the lack of competition for his number one. With no real pressure on Howard, there is nothing driving the American to recapture his best form. Players often thrive under pressure, knowing a mistake will lead to a spell on the sidelines but Howard is playing without that fear.

His understudy, Jan Mucha is devoid of confidence and looks disinterested in his rare cup outings. Arriving on the back of an impressive World Cup with Slovakia, Mucha should have provided a serious threat to Howard but the move has not worked out for Mucha or Everton.

After Mucha, Everton have no viable alternatives. Lacking an obvious third choice goalkeeper, the club would have to rely on academy players if an injury crisis struck. Whilst Howard still has plenty to offer Everton, Moyes should consider looking at strong backup for the short term and a potential successor in the long term. Without the added drive of genuine competition, there is a worry that Howard's erratic early season form may continue.

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