A Questionable Decision

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Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard is set to return to action tomorrow night when Everton travel to Stamford Bridge to take on League-leaders Chelsea. Howard has missed Everton’s last eight matches due to a calf injury, but the US stopper is likely to come straight back in to Roberto Martinez’ side for the clash with Jose Mourinho’s men and this decision has not been well received by a large number of our supporters.

 

In Howard’s absence, young Spanish ‘keeper Joel Robles has proved to be a more than useful replacement, but fresh from three clean sheets on the bounce and a confidence-boosting run of games, it now appears that the former Wigan man will make way for the returning Howard, even though he has been in solid form between the sticks since Boxing Day.

 

This news was more or less confirmed today by Blues Boss Roberto Martinez who had this to say when asked about the return of Howard from injury and the position of goalkeeper in his lunchtime post-match press conference:

 

Tim has been working very well. Yesterday he trained well so he is fully fit now for any games. Whenever Tim is fit he is our number one. The experience that he has, what he represents in our squad – I have got total faith in him. It’s great to see him fit again and training again and having a massive influence on our squad.  “The goalkeeping position is a different to any outfield position because the outfield positions is more about moments of form and ways of playing against opposition. In goal you need a bit of stability. Joel has been really good – I’ve been pleased with his two last performances. To keep a clean sheet against Crystal Palace and Liverpool, he has shown the size of the keeper we have. He is still a young man in terms of games but he has shown he has a good future and I have been proud of him.”

 

It’s safe to say what Martinez has had to say here has caused a strong reaction and sense of opinion from Evertonians, and I have to admit, I share their frustration towards this imminent decision.

 

I’ll be the first to admit I feared our season would go from bad, to woeful, to worse when Robles took his place in goal for Everton well over a month ago, but from what I’ve seen since from the Spaniard, I’m glad to have been proved wrong. Thinking back to the Krasnodar defeat at Goodison and the part Robles played in the visitors’ goal that night, his inclusion in Martinez’ side was enough to send a shudder down every Evertonian’s spine – especially in the midst of such a horrible run of results – however since he replaced Howard he has more than warranted a continued place in the Toffees’ side and to now see him immediately pushed aside would be disappointing to say the least.

 

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I mean, what more can you do to keep your place? Yes Howard has been at Everton for many years and has vast experience but why should he just automatically come straight back in to replace a player who has looked assured and in form? Will this decision see a backlash towards Martinez? Has our defensive improvement been solely down to Jagielka and Stones?

 

Ultimately these are just some of the questions being asked and discussed amongst our supporters, local journalists and the like, but in my opinion Joel Robles should keep his place in that Everton side and I for one do not want to see Tim Howard simply coast his way back into the side just because he’s recovered from injury. I believe collectively we’ve seen an improvement at the back – from Jagielka and Stones, to Coleman, Robles and Baines. They’ve all played their respective parts in a tightening up of defensive duties and both Jags and Stones are looking like a solid partnership at the heart of our defence. But that partnership has been backed up by a ‘keeper playing well, a ‘keeper unafraid to be prominent in the air, a ‘keeper willing to take the ball and distribute it quickly, and ultimately a ‘keeper who has filled us with more confidence in a handful of games than our so-called number one did in half a season.

 

Harsh? Maybe so, but these are my beliefs. What’s our motto? We expect quality across our squad and in goal should be no different. In Howard I firmly believe we’ve lacked something for a while now and he should return to America and bask in his cult-hero status because of his performances at the World Cup. Remember towards the end of Cahill and Neville’s Everton careers, it was horrible to watch wasn’t it? I don’t want this to happen again. We can’t carry passengers anymore, especially after our form this season. We need to press ahead with our future plans and after Joel Robles’ recent displays, there is no reason to say he can’t be a part of that.

 

I am not basing my views above on just the last eight Everton games by the way, I am basing this on what I’ve seen from Tim Howard over the course of the past few seasons at Goodison Park. Admittedly yes, all of our squad has been poor during the opening six months of the current campaign, but Howard, similarly to Sylvain Distin, had not been performing to a level we’d expect for some time and even before this season I believed it was time for change.

 

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There is no denying Howard is very fit, athletic and can play on for many a year, but getting by on just these attributes and decent shot-stopping ability just isn’t good enough for Everton FC if you ask me. We want more from our players, we want to see fresh blood in our side, new ideas and new talent, and as much as Howard has ‘been a great servant’ to the Club during his eight years on Merseyside I have thought for some time that we need to reinforce our goalkeeping department. I know for a fact I am not alone in saying this, and judging by the reaction from our fans on Twitter over the last 24 hours, I believe many of them would echo my thoughts here.

 

We’ve begun to build in the core areas of our side over the past couple of seasons – John Stones arrived towards the end of Moyes’ tenure, and since then Ross Barkley has emerged, James McCarthy was signed, as was Mo Besic and Romelu Lukaku – right down the spine of our team. In defence we need to continue to freshen up with youth, but the one, vital position we have failed to bring in a talented prospects in is in goal. Robles was signed in 2013 and until now he has not put any run of games or form together to really test Howard, but as soon as he does and he does step up to the mark, he’s shipped back to the bench, this doesn’t sit well with me.

 

Surely we should reward our players for good form by allowing them to continue in the side? Am I being naïve here?

 

If we are building for the future then the time is now for this transition. If Martinez sees Robles as his future number 1 then why not give him his chance to shine now. He gave him a five year contract don’t forget, and the former Atletico Madrid stopper is still just 24 years of age. We’ve waited for competition like this for years, it’s never came. As soon as it does we then revert to type and throw Howard straight back in at the first opportunity, I disagree with this wholeheartedly.

 

There is no time for sentiment, no requirement for utilising someone’s experience at this moment, when we have a player who has waited patiently, then grabbed his opportunity with both hands (pardon the pun) and in reality hardly put a foot wrong in our last eight fixtures. Look at his display against West Ham in the Cup – superb – look at his assurance in commanding his area and aerial threats, his distribution isn’t too shabby too. He’s made some brilliant saves and gradually earned a confidence and belief from our supporters – and now that will be taken away.

 

What will that do for his confidence?

 

Look at the statistics; Joel Robles has kept 3 clean sheets in 7 starting appearances (he came off the bench when Howard got injured), whereas Howard managed to only keep 3 clean sheets in 18 games previous to that. Robles has averaged less goals conceded (0.86 to Howard’s 1.56) and he’s also averaged more saves than the American too (2.00 to Howard’s 1.83). If that doesn’t warrant a continued chance to prove himself then what does? This is the first time we’ve kept three clean sheets on the spin for over a year. Why change things now?

 

Overall it could be a terrible decision for Martinez, but admittedly it wouldn’t be his first this season would it?

 

It’s blatantly obvious that Howard is going to come straight back in tomorrow night at Chelsea and although I’ll never boo one of my own players, I have every right to question the Manager’s thinking in doing this. Some will say Howard has been at Everton for a while and deserves more respect from myself, but at the end of the day I just want the best for Everton and I don’t think we are getting that with Tim. Robles has had a brief spell in goal for the Blues and well and truly took his chance, but typically of Everton we do the nice thing not to upset the applecart. We revert to type, remain predictable. Why not be a bit different for once, be a bit controversial? Give Robles a chance for a few more games, make Howard sweat. He’s had it too easy over the years but there’s no surprise in that when decisions like this are being made by our Managers! Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic. Maybe Howard will get Man of the Match at Stamford Bridge and keep a clean sheet, who knows. He probably will now that I’ve wrote this.

 

I just think that Robles deserves to stay in that side, at the very least for the time being.

 

We have sorted ourselves out at the back and in our last couple of fixtures both Jagielka and Stones have been outstanding, especially the latter. But for me Robles has also played his part too and I’ll be sorry to see him dropping back to the bench tomorrow night after such a decent run of performances. Well done to him and I’ve completely eaten my words from a month or two ago – he has proved me wrong, but in this instance I feel Martinez is in the wrong too and I just hope this decision doesn’t come back to haunt the Spaniard who is already under intense scrutiny at Goodison Park this season.

 

I suppose time will tell.

 

 

Up the Toffees.

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