If I had predicted how this review would be at the beginning of the season, I would have said that I would be writing about our goalkeeper beginning to decline, having had a harder season as our defence leaked more goals because of the new manager's open playing style. I might have even been writing about how he had been ushered out in place of new signing Joel Robles. How wrong I would have been.
On the contrary, this has been one of Tim Howard's finer seasons in goal for Everton, as he shows no signs of age getting the better of him. At 35, many might have expected him to start dwindling but it has been quite the opposite, as Roberto Martinez's playing style, which has so invigorated the players in front of him, have seemingly given the keeper a second lease of life. Important moments such as keeping out a Benteke penalty at Villa or an ageless display during the win at Old Trafford have shown that the American remains one of Everton's most key players, and indeed one of the better signings of the Moyes era.
Howard has always been an excellent shot stopper, but has always been overshadowed by the more agile types of goalkeepers such as Hugo Lloris, who are always ready to make a show stopping save for the cameras. However this year, he has upped his game to be just as good as those. According to statistics website Squawka, only Arsenals' Szczesny is ahead of Howard in terms of performance scores, with the likes of Petr Cech, Asmir Begovic, Joe Hart and Simon Mignolet all trailing behind. When it comes to clean sheets, Howard is second once again, this time to Petr Cech as both men have an equal tally of 16, but he has played more minutes than Chelsea's' number one. Both of these statistics highlight the excellent season he has had between the sticks, especially considering that this is Howards' highest clean sheet tally since 2007/2008.
In comparing his statistics from last year, the improvement is noticeable. Last year his total number of clean sheets was 10, whereas this year his tally has increased to 16, a massive difference in one year. This is also shown in the average number of saves per game he has had to make. Whereas last year he made on average 2.14 saves per game, the total has risen to 2.57 this year demonstrating that as Everton's defence has became more open through the new style of play, the goalkeeper has remained as solid as ever. Even further highlighting his improved stats is the average goals conceded column, which has fallen to 1 from 1.08 last year. Although this seems a small figure per game, as we have seen in the past and very nearly this year, goal tallies in the long run make a huge difference.
Staying with goals, this year has also seen a noticeable difference in the number of saves the keeper has made per goal, with the tally rising from 2.08 to 2.88 per game, another improvement. Lastly, even Howard's catching has seen a noticeable difference this year. I've often believed that the American is one of the better goalkeepers in the league when it comes to claiming crosses in to the box, but this year has seen an obvious improvement. Whereas last year the keeper had an average punch percentage of 50%, the total has fallen to 32% this year, showing he is electing to catch more often. Although his average claim percentage is down 1% on last year, he has clearly been working hard on that area of his game.
Ironically, Squawka's statistics actually have Howard as having a lower performance score than last year, 738 to last year's 837. Regardless of that though, he has clearly made a significant improvement in most of the important areas, becoming more reliable as the side in front of him has became more open and expansive, arguably losing some of the stronger defensive sides of their game in exchange for attacking flair. While Everton continue to improve going forward, it is always comforting to know they are safe with Howard between the sticks, and as Nigel Martyn proved in the past, goalkeepers only get better with age.