Needle does Howard a favour

Howard made a string of superb saves in the second half to earn his

country a 1-1 draw in their Group C opener in Rustenburg and claim

the man-of-the-match prize. But afterwards the Everton keeper

revealed the full extent of the injury he suffered in a

nasty-looking first-half collision with Emile Heskey as the pair

went to cut out Glen Johnson’s low cross. “Emile caught me right in

the ribs,” said Howard. “I honestly didn’t know whether it was

broken or not. “I was just trying to breathe and that was tough

enough. I was going to give myself five or 10 minutes because I

knew once the adrenalin kicked back in I was going to be all right

until half-time. “But it was really sore and it did cross my mind I

might have to be substituted. “Thankfully I managed to make it

through and eventually had a pain-killing injection and some

medicine.” It meant Howard was not in a position to offer a

detailed analysis of Robert Green’s howler. The USA did not do

anything quite as bad during his time at Manchester United. But Sir

Alex Ferguson did eventually lose patience with more minor, but

equally costly errors and decided the 31-year-old’s concentration

levels were not what he required at a club – where long periods of

inactivity can be followed by an isolated moment which turns out to

be pivotal. Since moving to Everton, initially on loan, in 2006,

Howard has proved himself to be one of the Premier League’s most

competent keepers. And having observed Green at close quarters, he

has nothing but sympathy for the man now being blamed for England’s

failure to open their Group C campaign with a win. “There is a bond

between the keepers,” he said. “You understand the criticism that

is heaped upon keepers. “I feel for Green. Even when we equalised,

I had mixed emotions at that very moment because you know what

happened in the moment is not nice. “He is a fantastic goalkeeper.

I have known him from playing against him for a number of years and

he will bounce back. “You need to be strong and have broad

shoulders – and Robert does.” It was hard to escape the comparison

between the two goalkeepers though, especially as, despite his

discomfort, Howard denied Emile Heskey after the England forward

had been put clean through by Aaron Lennon. Given Heskey has only

scored seven times in an international career which is now

approaching 60 games, it was probably not a surprise. But, unlike

Green for the goal, Howard’s technique was up to the task. “You

have to be bold and stand strong,” he said. “I knew he had the

opportunity to pick any corner he wanted but the longer you stand

up the better. “I read what he was going to do and in the end he

probably caught it too clean and just hit it at me.” Howard’s

in-depth knowledge of English soccer means he realises a period of

introspection and naval gazing will inevitably follow before

Friday’s second game against Algeria in Cape Town. But he does not

believe the anxiety needs to go too far as he still considers

England to be favourites to top the group. “We will have to see how

the group shapes out,” said Howard, whose team will be squaring up

against Slovenia at Ellis Park in their next match. “It is

certainly possible for us to win it but I still feel England are

favourites to top the group and go through. “The point is we have

shown we will fight and scratch to try and make it possible for us

to go through as well. “We came into the game as underdogs and we

relished it. “I don’t know what the odds are going to be for the

next two games but we can come out of this game very confident.”