As the Premier League season gradually reaches its climax, thoughts begin to turn towards the summer and the potential improvements needed on every roster.
Everton will certainly be a club keen on addressing a number of areas. They could do with a new striker, an injection of youth at centre-back, some dynamism in midfield, as well as a probable replacement for Marouane Fellaini.
Another less obvious area for the Toffees to evaluate and possibly adjust is their goalkeeping situation, a position firmly held by Tim Howard since 2006.
At 34, the American's not especially advanced in goalkeeping years and few can argue he hasn't maintained a high standard of consistency for the majority of his time at Goodison Park.
However, at the very least, it's high time the American starts being pushed for selection and even replaced during poor periods of play.
The problem with Everton's goalkeeping reserves is that Howard has rarely faced any genuine form of competition to start, so this has almost been impossible.
Admittedly Jan Mucha resembled a world-beater against Manchester City, yet, having watched each of his other nine starts in Everton colours, it's highly unlikely that standard will be maintained.
Mucha, along with Marcus Hahnemann, Carlo Nash and Stefan Wessels, have all spent time deputising behind Howard, joining Everton as seasoned veterans, unlikely to develop much further.
They have all ended up stagnating on the bench, knowing that however Howard performs, there's little chance of him being replaced, which has been detrimental to both parties.
Here's a look at some of Howard's goalkeeping statistics over the past five seasons, showing why this is a situation badly in need of attention.
As is clearly shown, this has been Howard's worst season in his past five at Everton. He has failed to keep clean sheets, is saving less often and saving a lower percentage of shots at goal, while making a higher proportion of errors.
Overall, there's a clear decline. In every other category not highlighted as his worst, in red, Howard still achieves his second poorest return in the five seasons shown.
With this Toffees team challenging for the top four, this has been a year when—at times—Howard has needed to be held accountable, as with every other position.
His early season lapses against Newcastle, Fulham, Stoke and Norwich cost his side precious points, and his place should have been under pressure as a result of this. With this current structure, the Toffees are simply unable to do this.
Clearly it's time for Everton to meticulously scour the goalkeeping reservoirs and install a young backup, viewed as a long-term successor, capable of putting immediate pressure on Howard.
Jack Butland would have been the ideal summer solution, obtained with some of the revenue likely to come in for Fellaini. He could have played in cup games, would have pushed Howard far more in training and any bout of poor form could have seen the England man given a starting berth for as long as he deserved it.
Sadly, Butland opted for a last-minute January move to Stoke, but the likes of Fraser Forster, Alex Smithies and several options across the globe must be seriously considered over the summer break.
Despite Mucha's heroics against Manchester City, it seems unlikely he will remain at Goodison Park, yet, regardless of his intentions, the focus very much needs to be on youth,
This isn't a definitive message for Everton to immediately go and install a new number one goalkeeper. The Toffees should absolutely find a different option in goal, but Howard should still have a chance of starting during the next few seasons.
Competition is key in every position and essential if Everton wish to maintain their top-six status and ever seriously challenge for a top-four finish. At the moment there is no sign of any competition for the Toffees in goal.
With a young understudy behind him, only likely to improve, Howard would hopefully be further motivated to produce some of his best form seen between 2008 and 2010.
If he doesn't replicate that, then Everton could at least select another capable option, instead of having to persist with an out-of-form starter.
Statistics via EPL Index
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