Everton have been one of the Premier League's best sides thus far, but they'll be forced to do without their top-choice keeper, Tim Howard, for the next three games after he was sent off on a straight red card in the first half against Sunderland on Boxing Day.
Just 23 minutes into the match, Leon Osman's lapse in concentration allowed Sung-Yong Ki to run free at goal. Howard took him down attempting to prevent a goal and earned himself a straight red in the process.
From the Premier League on Twitter:
Ki took the penalty himself and sent it past second-choice keeper Joel Robles—despite Robles correctly guessing the direction Ki would go—giving Sunderland the early 1-0 lead to go along with a man advantage for the remainder of the match.
Howard's loss could potentially be very costly, and it's also very rare, as Paul Carr of ESPN noted:
Howard will be out for Everton in a crucial match against Southampton at home, a match the Toffees should win against Stoke City at Britannia Stadium and the team's FA Cup tie against Queens Park Rangers.
You could argue that Everton should survive Howard's absence without much issue for two reasons—the team has proved to have one of the Premier League's top defenses all season, and the fixtures during Howard's suspension aren't terribly difficult.
Following the match, manager Roberto Martinez talked about the decision to send Howard off (via Everton's website):
Martinez admitted he had no complaints with referee Lee Probert’s decision to dismiss Howard for tripping Ki Sung-Yeung inside the first half – the incident which led to the only goal of the game, scored from the spot by the South Korean international.
He added: “Obviously we made a bad decision that cost us a sending off and a goal. When a pass is on that’s a decision and when you receive the ball that’s another decision. We probably got both of those wrong but we will learn from it.
“My only disappointment is the law itself – you feel like you have been doubly punished because you get a red card and concede a goal. The referee was spot on.”
Even the Southampton match—while sure to be a tightly contested affair—comes at home, and to be fair, Southampton came into Boxing Day reeling a bit of late.
Expect Robles to fill in admirably for Howard, and Everton to cruise through this block of games without major incident. Howard will surely be disappointed in his red card—and Everton will be happy to see him return after three matches—but Everton have already done well without Leighton Baines in the lineup.
They'll manage just fine without Howard, too.