In a previous article, https://tbrfootball.com/4-key-areas-roberto-martinez-and-everton-must-improve/ , I provided four areas that Martinez must improve on over the current season. In many ways, all my prayers have been answered. Everton’s leaky defence has been plugged with a spate of clean sheets resulting because of the new centre half pairing of Jagielka and Mori; Martinez has begun to manage rather more pragmatically, choosing to see games out with defensive additions rather than stick always to the same attacking game plan (the recent 2-0 Bournemouth FA cup victory emphasises this with the previous 3-3 game in mind); and manager favourites such as Koné have been benched in favour of replacements, such as Lennon, who have performed excellently in recent weeks with goals and assists to his name.
These changes have seen marked improvements. Everton have reached a semi-final and a quarter-final in the domestic cup competitions, and a march into the top half of the table looks set to continue with a continuation of strong form. However, one huge change that Martinez has wrought that is resulting in great success for Everton, is the change of his number one.
A replacement for Joel Robles in the January transfer window had been advocated by many but Everton were to make no alterations to their squad in this area. However, luck struck for the Spanish back-up goalkeeper. Howard had made further goalkeeping mistakes since the publishing of my original article, such as a defensive mix-up at Chelsea letting the Londoners back into the game when 2-0 up (although cruelly denied by a 98th minute offside John Terry goal), and conceding a penalty against Swansea in the very next game. Yet, the American seemed no further to being benched than at any other time in his career despite ever intensifying crowd pressure.
Luckily for Robles, Howard suffered a reported knee injury which side-lined him for a number of games. To say Joel took the opportunity with both hands would be an understatement of epic proportions! Three 3-0 victories followed, all at a time Everton couldn’t seem to buy a clean sheet. Everton looked more comfortable defensively with Robles at the back, and the confidence seemed to spread throughout the team. Everton did suffer a blip with a 1-0 loss to West Brom but seem back on track with a victory over Bournemouth in the cup and with that particular competition providing the only realistic remaining excitement for the rest of the season, progression is paramount.
Suddenly, the picture at Everton seems a lot rosier. The fans have taken to Robles, and bombard him on Twitter game after game with praise. His penalty save in the cup game was greeted with raucous celebration, with Robles celebrating directly in front of the fans with the team. His MOTM award for this game; as voted by the fans, was wholly deserved. Even Martinez, who seemed unwilling at all costs to replace Howard, has fully admitted that Robles has seized the No. 1 jersey from the American’s hands.
Robles has bided his time over the past couple of seasons, rather than looking to force a move from the club, and is now reaping the rewards with four clean sheets in just five games. As Howard books his one way ticket to the US; the 25-year-old Spaniard; the Great Usurper, looks set as Everton’s No. 1 for many seasons to come. Everton fans are only left to rue that he wasn’t selected sooner.
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