Everton's impressive start to life under Roberto Martinez shows no sign of slowing down just yet.
A 4-1 win over Fulham took the Catalan's new side to 31 points from 16 games and temporarily elevated them into fourth place in the Premier League.
Slicker passing and movement, an augmented attack and a controlled possession game are all reasons for the Toffees' improvements—most of which involve actions in the final third of the field.
However, Martinez's side are also excelling at the back, largely thanks to the contribution of Tim Howard.
The American has quietly found his best form in Everton colours and has been integral to his side's current bout of consistency.
Few would have anticipated this just 12 months ago when the Toffees' No. 24 appeared in a prolonged run of particularly erratic form. He was often hesitant with crosses, was caught out of position from too many long-range shots and generally seemed in decline.
Several lapses contributed to dropped points during late 2012, as the American committed more statistical errors than in any other season at the club.
He recorded just four clean sheets over his first 27 games of last season, which was one of the reasons the Toffees' European challenge ended agonisingly short.
Everton goalkeeper Jan Mucha makes an excellent double save from Carlos Tevez and James Milner. Everton 1-0 Man City (68 mins). #EVEMCI— Premier League (@premierleague) March 16, 2013
Whether the Slovakian's inspired showings gave him the push he needed, or the recuperation period simply rejuvenated him, Howard recaptured his form over the final few matches of the season.
He finished with six clean sheets in his final nine games and has continued that surge of form into this current campaign.
The Toffees currently boast the Premier League's joint-best defence, having shipped just 15 goals in 16 games, and have already posted eight clean sheets—a total no Premier League side can surpass.
Since his injury, Howard's now recorded 14 clean sheets in his past 25 games for the Toffees, compared to just the four in his 27 previous games.
His club's transition to a ball retention approach is ultimately designed to reduce their opponent's chances. An influx of clean sheets could suggest this has worked and Howard's had less to do, but statistics show he's actually had an almost identical body of work; the American's simply been in far better form.
He's faced 59 shots on target through 16 Premier League games this season, that's an average of 3.7 per match. By the end of his 16th game last season he had faced 61 shots on target, just two shots more.
This season he's saved 74.6 percent of those shots compared to 67.2 percent the previous year, which highlights his improvement.
|Games||Conceded||Clean Sheets||Shots Faced (OT)||Shots Saved|
|Game 1-27 (2012/13)||27||34||4||104||67.3%|
|Since Game 30 (2012/13)||25||20||14||89||77.5%|
To differentiate before and after his injury—which seems the key turning point—Howard faced 104 shots on target across his first 27 games of last season, conceding 34 goals and saving 67.3 percent of those shots.
Over the next 25 games he's faced 89 shots on target and saved 77.5 percent of them—emphasising a huge overall increase in production.
Statistics can sometimes be misleading but a 10 percent jump is clearly a dramatic shift. The American is already on course to beat his and Everton's record of 17 clean sheets during the Premier League era and if he maintains this form he might even challenge Gordon West's club record of 21.
Is Howard in his best ever form for Everton?
Away from numbers, Howard currently resembles a more assured, commanding figure, with his anticipation especially impressive this season.
Last season, it was a case of how many extra points a different goalkeeper might have brought the Toffees. Twelve months on and there's no doubt Everton's points tally has been significantly boosted by Howard's timely return to form.
Statistics via WhoScored?