Post-Brazil Comedown

It seemed as though Tim Howard's decision to take a year-long sabbatical from the US Men's National Team could only benefit Everton but he has not been himself following his World Cup heroics.

For a couple of days at the start of July this year, Tim Howard was the most talked about footballer on the planet. Fast forward a little over three months and the picture is very different. The American has still been hitting the headlines albeit not on a global stage but this time it's for all the wrong reasons.

Howard's inspired performance in the USA's valiant extra-time defeat to Belgium in the last 16 of the World Cup, a game which saw him make a competition record 15 saves, won him widespread praise, spawned the Twitter hashtag #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave and earned him a congratulatory call from American President Barack Obama.

Whether the Leader of the Free World has been following the goalkeeper's form since then is debatable. But if Mr Obama has found time to tune into NBC Sports and catch the USA's unofficial Secretary of Defence in action for Everton, Howard can expect a far less pleasant conversation with his most powerful fan.

It's difficult to describe just how disappointing the 35-year-old has been in between the sticks so far, but by my reckoning he's been directly at fault for three goals and could've done more to stop at least another four. And that's probably being a bit generous.


Against Leicester on the opening day Howard slumped to his left as Chris Wood shaped to shoot and score in the opposite corner. It got plenty worse against Chelsea though, with Diego Costa's opener going through his legs before he dove out of the way of Seamus Coleman's unfortunate own goal. And, after somehow avoiding two blatant reds for handling the ball outside his area and forcing his head against that of Cesar Azpilicueta, he topped it all off by chucking himself as far away from Costa's second strike as possible.

A revival of sorts followed two weeks later against West Brom , with two smart saves late on at the Hawthorns preserving a first and much-needed clean sheet of the campaign and helping to secure our only Premier League win so far.

But unfortunately it was short-lived and Howard, who by this point had conceded 10 top-flight goals, had an absolute stinker at home to Crystal Palace giving away and then conceding a penalty, letting Fraizer Campbell beat him in the air and nod in a second and then pulling off his increasingly familiar trick of diving the wrong way for the Eagles' third, even though Yannick Bolasie couldn't have made his intentions any more obvious.

And as if that wasn't enough, the former Manchester United stopper decided to gift his old side the ball at Old Trafford instead of hoofing it out of play for a throw-in after rushing out of his goal. The home side took full advantage, keeping their attack alive before Radamel Falcao poked home the winner just a few seconds later.

It's all added up to the poorest period in Howard's eight-and-a-bit years at Goodison Park, which is no mean feat given some of the sub-standard displays we've witnessed from him. Even still, his current form has come as an unwelcome surprise after his exploits in Brazil just a few months ago.

Although his record-breaking performance in South America would've been impossible to predict, Howard's performances will not have come as a shock to anyone who watched him consistently during Roberto Martinez's first season in charge of the Blues.

The previous campaign was arguably the American's finest since he made the move down the M62, originally on a season-long loan deal back in 2006. He kept a total of 15 clean sheets in the league and conceded just 37 times helping Martinez's men lay claim to the third-best defensive record in the division.

Comparing Howard's form of this season to last is like chalk and cheese. He has already let in an average of 2.29 goals per game so far, a huge increase on the one per game he managed as Everton finished fifth last term. He has made an average of just 1.07 saves for every goal conceded, down from 2.88 during 2013-14. And he's also made less saves in each match he's played 2.29 compared to 2.57.

Whether it's an issue of concentration or complacency, Martinez needs his keeper to recapture the consistency he showed during the club's best-ever Premier League season. With our back-four looking the shakiest it has in quite some time, we simply can't afford for our last line of defence to be so error-prone.

Joel Robles looked capable of providing genuine competition when he arrived on a long-term deal in the summer of 2013 but he has failed to convince during a handful of appearances and looks some way off displacing his team-mate given Martinez's reluctance to give him an opportunity in any competition so far this season. A few more Howard howlers and that could change quite quickly.

But as his standout display in the 4-1 win against Wolfsburg showed, our current No 1 isn't finished yet. Under the floodlights at Goodison Howard showed the kind of form he did against Romelu Lukaku and Co in Salvador, making a Europa League record 12 saves before being beaten by Ricardo Rodriguez's brilliant free-kick late on.

Although many of his stops were straightforward, the ex-MetroStars player showed more than a glimpse of his best to deny Kevin de Bruyne and stop another Rodriguez set-piece from nestling in his net. A welcome reminder that he still has plenty of ability, even if he's managed to hide it well for most of the season.

Having recently extended his contract until 2018 and spoken about representing his country at the World Cup in the same year, Howard clearly believes he has what it takes to play at the highest level until close to his 40th birthday. To appease both his manager and Evertonians, he must start proving that's the case on the pitch.

If he doesn't start soon then an established goalkeeper can be added to the top of Martinez's next shopping list. Unfortunately for Howard, there must be no room for sentiment on the blue half of Merseyside.

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