Everton's quest for the new Neville Southall has lasted longer even than Manchester United's search for a worthy successor to Peter Schmeichel, but after Tim Howard surpassed Southall's record of clean sheets on Saturday, there is a feeling around the Merseyside club that their wait is over.
The American is quick to acknowledge the role of the defenders in front of him in Everton's 16 shut-outs this season but the view at Goodison is that if the record stems from a collective effort then Howard is the organiser.
"It is the team that wins clean sheets but there is no doubt it is Tim who marshals the back four," Everton's assistant manager, Steve Round, said. "Players will tell you that he is very demanding, even in training. Schmeichel used to be the same and Tim has got a bit of Schmeichel about him."
Howard is among 11 goalkeepers to have worn the Everton jersey since Southall left in 1998 and the sixth to make the place his own for a sustained period. Given that the Welshman made 578 league appearances, Howard's 108 so far since his move from Manchester United seem inconsequential. But he is not yet 30 while Southall kept the job for almost another 10 years, so time is on his side.
"Neville was fantastic, a world-class goalkeeper but Tim has to have it in his mind to strive to emulate him," Round said. Saturday's blank must have been one of Howard's easiest as Tottenham managed only four shots on goal, none on target. Everton, for whom the 18-year-old prospect, Jack Rodwell, showed evidence of his growing maturity in midfield, were not much more threatening but did do enough to give Heurelho Gomes, the gaffe-prone Brazilian goalkeeper, more than a few scary moments.
The result cost Everton the chance to go fifth in the table, Tottenham the opportunity to make themselves favourites to finish seventh, although manager Harry Redknapp, who made such a noise about the inconvenience of being in the Uefa Cup this season, denied that missing out on the new Europa League would be a blessing. "That game against Shakhtar [in the Uefa Cup third round] was impossible because it came three days before the Carling Cup final," he said. "But as a manager you want to get into Europe."
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Yobo, Lescott, Baines; Gosling (Osman, 69), Rodwell, Cahill, Pienaar; Fellaini; Jo (Saha, 69). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Castillo, Vaughan, Jacobsen, Wallace.
Tottenham Hotspur (3-5-2): Gomes; Corluka, Woodgate, King; Hutton, Jenas, Huddlestone, Modric (Pavlyuchenko, 81), Bale; Keane, Defoe. Substitutes not used: Cudicini (gk), Bentley, Gunter, Campbell, Chimbonda, Rose.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).
Booked: Everton Lescott, Pienaar; Tottenham Hotspur Hutton, Jenas, Pavlyuchenko.
Man of the match: Rodwell.
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