Howard out to make up for cup agony
Tim Howard says that Everton's FA Cup run is being driven by a determination to erase the pain of last season's semi-final defeat against Liverpool.
David Moyes' side are one game away from reaching the last four again after beating Oldham 3-1 on Tuesday night to set up a home quarter-final against Wigan.
Moyes has admitted that the 2-1 defeat against Liverpool at Wembley last April still haunts him. The Toffees went into the game as the form team and took the lead, but played poorly and let a place in the final slip away.
Howard, 33, acknowledges that Everton have not been at their best in recent weeks, having fallen seven points adrift of the top four after successive Premier League defeats at Manchester United and Norwich. But the goalkeeper believes that the players have the strength of character to get the results they need to atone for last season's cup disappointment.
Victory over Wigan would earn Everton a fourth Wembley appearance in five seasons, and take the club one step closer to their first trophy since they won the FA Cup under Joe Royle in 1995.
"What happened to us last year has given us a real drive to get back there, but the way Wembley makes me feel, makes the team feel and makes the fans feel, is also giving us that drive," Howard told The Guardian.
"It's always tough to lose to Liverpool, more so in those circumstances and on that big occasion. You puff your chest out when you are going to Wembley, you're excited, the ticket requests are coming in and the fans are all singing their songs.
"In order for us to experience that again, we have to get past Wigan. But the draw has been favourable. It was good to get a home draw finally."
Winning the FA Cup would earn Everton a place in next season's Europa League, which they could also still qualify for through their league position.
The Champions League is a rather less likely prospect now, with Moyes' side seven points behind Chelsea, who currently occupy the fourth and final qualification place.
Howard, meanwhile, is closing in on a personal milestone, as he is set to make his 211th consecutive league appearance for Everton against Reading on Saturday – which would leave him one short of equalling Neville Southall's club record.
His focus, though, is on improving the league form. He said: "I don't think we are firing on all cylinders and, at the moment, I think that's a good thing.
"We have advanced in the cup and have a home draw and we're still in the thick of it in the league.
"I'd sooner not be firing on all cylinders at this point and be where we are, than be further down the league. Let's hope we have something in reserve. We spent a lot of energy in the first half of the season and now it's more about our big players.
"We don't have a large squad so it's going to be about the big players producing. Most of the teams around us can chop and change their team on a given weekend and still have a lot of firepower. We don't have that.
"So it'll be up to our big players, who have already played a ton of minutes, to keep producing until the end of the season."