TIM HOWARD celebrates another landmark afternoon at Carrow Road on Saturday. But if there’s one guarantee about his 300th Everton appearance, it’s that it will be nothing like the end of his 299th.
Howard was subject to a late aerial barrage at Boundary Park last weekend before the sheer weight of pressure – and the flailing arms of rival goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis – combined to earn Oldham an FA Cup fifth round replay and place a spoke in the wheels of Everton’s Wembley bandwagon.
Fingers were pointed at the United States international’s failure to deal with the injury-time melee from which Matt Smith snatched an equaliser, despite the goalkeeper having made two brilliant saves during the final 10 minutes.
And Everton legend Neville Southall believes it was not without good reason that Howard found it difficult to cope.
“Some of the criticism after the Oldham game was harsh,” says Southall, who made a club-record 751 appearances for Everton. “Tim just wouldn’t have come across that kind of attacking in the Premier League before.
“Everton had to deal with a lot of balls put into the box and they won’t have experienced that in a long time. They did well, to be fair. Against Stoke is probably the nearest they’ll have got to that kind of defending.
“Refereeing is different in FA Cup ties to the Premier League. You’re not going to get fouls given against you, and maybe Tim did get caught out looking at the men instead of the ball. But if you aren’t used to it, that’s not exactly surprising.”
Since arriving from Manchester United on an initial loan in 2006, Howard has missed only four Premier League games for Everton.
And Southall believes that impressive longevity was somewhat taken for granted until uncharacteristic errors began to slip into the American’s game during the first half of the season.
“Tim has done great over the years,” says the Welshman. “He has been really consistent and it’s clear the players trust him and what he does.
“For me, he has been quite underrated during the last few years. Because he has done so well over such a long period of time, people have come to expect him to turn up and play well.
“That’s a sign of the great level of consistency he has got to. And it’s also why he has had a bit of criticism this year as it’s the first time he has really dropped down from that level.
“But I look at him now and over the last few weeks he has been getting better again.”