Record-breaker Howard seals Everton's Euro place
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Record-breaker Howard seals Everton's Euro place

Tim Howard and his obdurate Everton defenders have been hailed as the foundation for the team's double push towards a fifth-placed league finish and FA Cup glory.

sports Updated: May 10, 2009 07:37 IST

Tim Howard and his obdurate Everton defenders have been hailed as the foundation for the team's double push towards a fifth-placed league finish and FA Cup glory.

The American keeper set a new club record of 16 cleansheets this season in his side's 0-0 draw with Tottenham on Saturday to leave David Moyes's side in sixth spot, just one point behind Aston Villa and assured of a place in next season's Europa League.

Everton assistant manager Steve Round was quick to highlight the impressive form of Howard and his defenders.

He claims that defensive solidity is the key to the Toffees' success this season in the league and FA Cup, in which they face Chelsea in the final at Wembley on May 30.

"It's a great achievement by Tim to get a record clean sheets but it's not just down to him, it's a great team effort," said Round. "We are very solid defensively and Tim's an excellent goalkeeper.

"I think if you get that many clean sheets you are always going to be up there towards the top of the league. I think Sir Alex Ferguson said strikers win you games and defenders win you championships. And you can see what he means.

"If you get that run of clean sheets you only need one goal to win it.

"I'm very pleased for Tim and the rest of the back four for getting that record."

Despite Howard's outstanding run, Round admitted manager David Moyes may give deputy Carlo Nash a rare start before the cup final to ensure the reserve he is ready to step up should the regular number one suffer a shock injury.

"That may come into contention, we haven't discussed it yet," added Round. "Carlo may need that experience if he is called on but Tim is in such a great run of form at the moment and he is fit and strong. But it's something we will talk about this week."

Focus has inevitably already shifted onto the cup final at Goodison Park and Round believes the club's twin achievements in league and cup this year will be a major benefit to Moyes when he begins his task of strengthening the squad during the transfer window.

"Another top six finish means European qualification again and it's making a statement all the time which is especially important when you want to recruit," said Round.

"Players can see we are consistently in that area. We are in a cup final as well and if we can win a trophy, it all adds to the momentum that you need for the club to be as good as it can be."

Spurs manager Harry Redknapp used the fixture at Goodison Park to experiment with a new formation.

With Alan Hutton available once again after serious foot injury and Gareth Bale included because of an injury to regular left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Redknapp opted for a 3-5-2 line-up and claims the successful experiment will give him more options for the future.

"I played the wing-backs today with three central defenders," said Redkanpp. "So Alan played right wing-back and Gareth Bale played left wing-back. I played that system when we came here earlier in the season with Portsmouth and we won 3-0. That's how we played, with Modric in behind the two up front.

"It's a system that suits the two full-backs. I haven't done it before with Tottenham but we worked on it for a few days this week.

"I thought let's try something different at this stage of the season and see how it works. And I thought it worked well.

"We passed it well. We passed the ball, kept changing play, we moved it around well but second half they pushed up on us and we couldn't pass it around as well. And we couldn't kick it long because we had two five foot nothing centre-forwards."

First Published: May 10, 2009 07:35 IST