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 By Mike Whalley

Martinez: Howard back for Cardiff clash

LIVERPOOL -- Tim Howard will be restored to Everton's team this Saturday after missing last weekend's FA Cup exit to Arsenal, Roberto Martinez has confirmed.

Tim Howard celebrates his assist in Everton's recent victory over Newcastle.
Tim Howard has played every Everton league game he's been available for since his 2006 move.

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The United States goalkeeper was on the bench for the 4-1 quarterfinal defeat at the Emirates as the Toffees boss stuck with a decision to play backup Joel Robles in cup ties.

That decision also gave the 35-year-old a breather after playing an international friendly against Ukraine in Cyprus three days before that FA Cup defeat.

But Martinez stated that Howard would be restored to the team for Saturday's visit of struggling Cardiff.

"It's not a problem at all," the manager said. "I think Tim has been performing really, really well this season. We'll go back to Tim, the goalkeeper who has been playing in the league."

Howard has been selected for every Everton league game for which he has been available since joining the club from Manchester United in the summer of 2006, initially on loan.

He missed the 2-1 victory over Southampton on Dec. 29 because he was suspended, and sat out two league games last season as a result of a back injury.

Before that, his last league absence was in September 2007, when a finger injury kept him out for two matches and he was replaced by German Stefan Wessels.

Howard also sat out both league games against Manchester United during the 2006-07 campaign -- the first because he was on loan from Old Trafford and could not play against his parent club, the second as part of an informal 'gentlemen's agreement' after the transfer had been made permanent.

Ahead of the game against Cardiff, Martinez will take a late check on the fitness of captain Phil Jagielka, who has been absent with a hamstring problem, and midfielder Steven Pienaar, who limped off during the cup defeat at Arsenal.

"We'll make a really late decision on Phil in terms of the weekend, just to make sure that he's fully fit for the remainder of the season," the manager confirmed.

Martinez, meanwhile, insists that Everton can still qualify for the Champions League desite his side sitting seventh in the Premier League, nine points off a top-four spot with 11 games to play.

Realistically, their best hopes of a European place lie with the Europa League -- and they would have to finish fifth or six to qualify for that.

"Can you get top four? Well, mathematically, you can," Martinez continued. "If you look at the points tally you need to get into those positions, it’s still achievable.

"It would depend too on how the other clubs react to the disappointment of not being involved in Europe, while other clubs are still in Europe.

"I think there are many aspects that are going to affect the final points tally needed to be in that top four.

"After that, you’ve got the Europa League qualification, which is another important aim to fight for.

"I think it would be very easy for us to say that we don’t want to qualify for Europe and let this season cruise through. That's not the case at all.

"Qualifying for Europe, for us, would be a massive step forward because it would bring big football occasions that I do feel we need to be able to develop into the type of team that we want to be.

"So clearly, getting into Europe is a big objective, and something that would allow us to grow as a football club."

Martinez wants his players to focus on that European target, and has warned his international stars that they will be dropped if they start easing off to save themselves for the World Cup.

He said: "I think what you learn in football is that the moment you start to protect yourself, you’re going to lose your place in the team and that's going to have a negative effect on your chances with the national side.

"I think it's quite straightforward. You need to focus on the games that you have in front of you and finish with good form.

"In the league, you still have a good period before the World Cup starts, so as a player, it's just a case of narrowing the aims in front of you.

"Over the next nine weeks, we have 11 games, and that's very easy to focus on.

"The moment that you start thinking a little bit further ahead, football can be really cruel in that respect.

"If you're not fully focused on what you're doing, you can end up with a really negative aspect in your performances, which is the last thing you want before a major tournament."


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