GOALKEEPERS are different? Don’t believe a word of it.
Sheffield United’s Mark Howard might prefer to spend matches in splendid isolation. But, speaking ahead of tomorrow’s League One fixture at Yeovil Town, he revealed the selfless streak required to master what is often described as football’s most selfish role.
“There’s a lot more thought goes into playing this position than perhaps some people realise,” Howard said. “The most important thing is developing a strong relationship with my defenders and I feel we’re starting to do that now.
“I need to know how my defenders like to go about their work on the pitch so that I can adjust what I do and where I stand accordingly.
“Equally they need to know how I’m going to read certain situations so they can do the same. I like to come and take a cross for instance so, when that happens, I like my defenders to protect me.
“We’re starting to establish good lines of communication now. These things always take a while, they never happen overnight, but everything is starting to bed in.”
The sight of United registering their second clean sheet of the season during Tuesday’s stalemate with Doncaster Rovers suggests that Howard’s faith is not misplaced. Danny Wilson’s side travel to Huish Park sixth in the table and still unbeaten in the competition this term.
“Keeping a clean sheet is a massive result for any ‘keeper,” Howard continued. “That’s our job done because we can’t really affect things at the other end of the pitch.”
United’s work since then will have focused on ensuring possession and pressure is translated into goals although Howard, echoing his manager’s sentiments during a defiant post-match inquest, insists it would be a grave mistake to downgrade expectations following a run of two wins and five draws.
“To be honest, I actually thought we deserved to win that game because of the chances we created.
“There’s always areas where you can improve but we’re unbeaten and I’m not going to deny that feels good. Now we’ve got to make sure that continues.”
Dean Saunders, Wilson’s opposite number, attempted to claim a moral victory following the midweek derby at Bramall Lane by insisting Rovers’ resilience had forced United to abandon their principles and adopt a “route one” approach.
The former Wales international’s comment that the tactics United employed “suits this league” was interpreted by some as a slight. But Howard, who was recruited by Wilson en route to last season’s play-off final, insisted their ability to “mix things up” is a sign of strength rather than weakness.
“We’re more versatile this year, especially with Kits (Dave Kitson) coming in and Cressy (Richard Cresswell) staying on.
“They had two big centre-halves and we had to equal that. When Kits came on it pretty much null and voided them.
“It’s not the way we usually like to go about things but it’s effective. Another arrow in our bow if you like.
“If you’re chasing a game then it’s a good option to have. And, towards the end of matches, the long ball can be hard to defend.”
Howard, aged 25, started his career at Arsenal before experiencing his first regular taste of first team football north of the border first with Falkirk, St Mirren and then Aberdeen.
Having deputised for Steve Simonsen during the closing stages of last term, his team mate’s departure during the close season means he is now regarded as United’s established number one.
“I’m really enjoying myself,” Howard said. “I’ve really settled in well.”
Teams and ref
Yeovil (possible): Stech, Webster, Ralph, Nkumu, Ayling, Upson, Foley, Ince, Smith, Hayter, Reid.
United (possible): Howard, McMahon, Collins, Maguire, Hill, Gallagher, McAllister, McDonald, Williams, Cresswell, Blackman.
Roger East (Wiltshire): Took last season’s League One play-off final between United and Huddersfield. Once famously officiated in a volatile derby in Tripoli before being congratulated by one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons for the quality of his performance. Two red cards this term, both in the Premier League.