Everton manager Roberto Martinez confirmed United States goalkeeper Tim Howard is expected to serve as the backup to Joel Robles moving forward.
Robles stepped into the starting XI earlier this month after Howard missed the 3-0 victory over Newcastle on Feb. 3 with a knee complaint. The former Wigan goalkeeper retained his place for the 3-0 victory over Stoke City on Feb. 6 and the 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
Martinez planned to start Robles in the FA Cup anyway, but the manager faced a decision about whether to retain him for Premier League matches after Robles made an error on Salomon Rondon’s goal last weekend and Howard returned to full fitness.
The Toffees manager outlined his support for Robles ahead of the FA Cup fifth-round tie against Bournemouth on Saturday (live, 12:00p.m. ET, FS2, FOX Sports GO) and said the Spanish goalkeeper is now his first-choice in the position.
“It's been a really good, consistent period for him and the back four,” Martinez told reporters in a press conference on Friday. “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 those lines.
"That's when you are in a strong position, when you've got football making the decisions,” Martinez continued. “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."
The decision places Howard in a reserve role for the first time since joining Everton ahead of the 2006/07 season. The 36-year-old goalkeeper came in for withering criticism earlier in the season, but he returned to form with a sterling display against Manchester City in the Christmas period before picking up the knee complaint.
Howard’s murky future with the club -- including a potential return to MLS this summer -- does not factor into the consideration at the moment, according to Martinez.
“All I'm focusing on is making sure that Tim gets back to his best level and being able to finish the season strong,” Martinez said. “Whatever happens in the future, I don't think it's the right moment to speak about it now.”
Martinez’s verdict complicates the considerations for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann prior to a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala next month.
Howard and Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan are the two primary options in goal. Klinsmann said last year he planned to rotate matches between Guzan and Howard to keep them engaged at the international level.
Both players, however, are now out of their respective teams for the foreseeable future. Klinsmann told the Washington Post this week that he planned to monitor their situations carefully and weigh the potential fallout from those selection decisions as the qualifiers approached.
“Obviously, the good thing with both Brad and Tim is that they have a tremendous amount of experience,” Klinsmann told the Post. “Do they want to play week in and week out and be sharp as much as possible? Yes, but if they come off the bench, they know how to play the game. Helpful there is experience, so the level of concern we have is then not that big because they know how to handle that situation.”
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