Everton manager Roberto Martinez has confirmed that Joel Robles has taken over as the team’s first-choice goalkeeper.
United States international Tim Howard has been out since suffering a knee injury earlier in the month, with Robles filling in for the veteran and impressing. With Howard now fit again, the Toffees boss revealed ahead of Saturday's FA Cup clash with Bournemouth that the Spaniard has done enough to take over between the sticks on a full-time basis.
“He is,” Martinez responded when asked whether Robles was now his first choice, per the Press Association (h/t ESPN FC). The Everton boss continued:
It's been a really good, consistent period for him and the back four. I think defensively, you look at the performance against West Brom and it's exactly what we expected. We only conceded one corner, one shot on target, and unfortunately that went in.
To have three clean sheets before that is something we can build on and carry on on those lines. That's when you are in a strong position, when you've got football making the decisions. It's important that you give continuity and at the moment, Joel is doing really well.
But Tim Howard has been injured and he hasn't been able to fight for his place back. We'll benefit from the competition for places and that's the way I want to see it.
As we can see here, courtesy of Squawka Football, with Howard in goal for much of the campaign at Goodison Park, Everton’s defensive record has been abysmal:
Everton have now conceded more goals at home (23) than any other side in Europe's top five leagues this season. pic.twitter.com/cDFUvu1ZS7— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 13, 2016
Evertonians have been calling for the change for a long time. While Howard is in his 10th season at the club and has been an undeniably wonderful servant, over the past couple of seasons, age seems to have been catching up with the 36-year-old, with a string of errors costing the Toffees dearly.
The fans’ frustration has grated on the goalkeeper at times this term, too. As Tony Scott of the Liverpool Echo noted during a game against Stoke City in December, when a Howard error helped the Potters notch a 4-3 win, the dynamic between the American and supporters has grown toxic:
The Gwladys Street sarcastically cheers Tim Howard after the American goalkeeper collects a cross.— Tony Scott (@Tony_Scott11) December 28, 2015
Howard applauds them.
Robles, whom Martinez signed from Wigan Athletic in 2013, has impressed when given chances. Prior to the loss to West Bromwich Albion on Feb. 13, he had kept three clean sheets in succession.
While not as experienced as Howard, the 25-year-old has shown a greater willingness to command his area and get Everton going with sharp distribution. Having never been able to put together a run of games in his Toffees career, he now has a chance to lead Martinez's side.
And while he was arguably culpable for the goal against the Baggies, Peter McPartland of Toffee TV would rather see a younger goalkeeper learning from his mistakes than an older one who isn't:
Joel should be doing better w/ the goal but I'd rather have a 25yo learning from his mistakes than a 36 yo in his last 12 games making them— Peter Mcpartland (@PED7) February 14, 2016
For Howard, it’s looking increasingly likely that his career at Everton is coming to an end. Not only has he been ousted by a younger upstart, but according to Jeff Carlisle of ESPN FC, Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids are interested in bringing him back to his homeland.
Sitting on the bench is also likely to be a blow to Howard’s chances of representing the USMNT at the summer’s Copa America, although his longstanding rival for the spot, Brad Guzan, is also out of favour at Aston Villa.
Howard can look back at a fine career at Everton and may even get a chance again before the end of the campaign, should Robles falter in the weeks to come. However, goalkeeping is becoming an art more suited to younger players in the modern game, and with that in mind, it’d be a surprise to see him competing at an elite level beyond this season.