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Jan 23, 2013

Howard upbeat after stalemates

Tim Howard believes Everton's defensive resilience is the key to bringing Champions League football to Goodison Park.

• Blog: More questions than answers

Howard, 33, was in outstanding form as David Moyes' side kept a second successive clean sheet in drawing 0-0 at Southampton in the Premier League on Monday night. The point left Everton three points off a top-four spot, in fifth position, and well placed for a crack at qualifying for Europe's top club competition.

Moyes' men have made a habit in previous seasons of starting slowly and then picking up speed over the second half of a campaign. This season, though, they have put together a much better start, having not dropped below sixth place since mid-September.

And Howard - who was making his 206th consecutive league appearance for Everton on Monday night, and is just six games short of equalling Neville Southall's club record – is hopeful that their reputation for being strong finishers can push them into the top four.

Asked how much confidence the start to the season had given the side, Howard told the Liverpool Daily Post: "A lot. Now it is going to be a matter of whether we can put two halves together.

"That is what everyone is wondering and it is our job to keep it up and keep our levels high. When we don't perform well, we need to get something out of it and so at the moment that is working."

Moyes felt Monday's draw, coming on the back of a 0-0 stalemate at home to Swansea nine days earlier, was a missed opportunity to close the gap on the top four, but Howard feels that the important thing is that Everton keep on collecting points.

He said: "It is easy to say 'What if?' but I always think if we can keep picking up points here and there, it is better than a loss. It just depends how you look at it. We are right there in the mix and it is going to go week-to-week now.

"We are three points off Spurs, Liverpool are four points behind us and Arsenal are four behind with a game in hand, so if everyone does their job, it is going to be basically who wins the head-to-head battles."

The draw at St Mary's brought only Everton's fourth clean sheet of the season in the league, and Howard reckons that a few more will help to take the pressure off the forward line in the chase for Champions League football.

He said: "I think it balances out. There were times in the first half of the season where we weren't earning clean sheets and we got bailed out with goals and won games. So we all have our jobs to do, and we did it well against Southampton. It's a second clean sheet on the bounce, so we'll take the positives out of it. The goals will come."

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