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Howard content at Goodison

Money isn't an issue nowadays for Tim Howard, but he still loves to get things on the cheap. Just after Christmas, he spotted a good deal on a pair of jeans and snapped them up. As things are turning out, his move to Everton was a bargain, too.

Now in his second season, the 28-year-old New Jersey native is the Toffees' undisputed No. 1 keeper and is tied for fourth in the Premier League clean sheets stakes. Take away the so-called big four - Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and city rival Liverpool - and he leads the way along with Portsmouth's seemingly ageless David James.

Not bad considering Howard was bought for the relatively paltry sum of about £3 million from United in May 2006. His form has helped put Everton in contention for the much-coveted fourth and final Champions League spot since Liverpool are struggling both on and off the field.

'I am who I am, and I'm quite happy with it,' Howard said.'Being the age that I am, I'm the keeper that I'm going to be. I don't think there are any wholesale changes to be made. At this stage, I could analyse every game and say I could have done this better, but I try not to overanalyse. If I have a good game I try to build on that, if there's a game I wasn't so good, I try to make up for it the next.'

When he first arrived in the UK during that whirlwind summer of 2003, Howard admitted he needed to develop the aerial component of his game, as in, dealing with the crosses so prevalent in English soccer. Five years later, he says he's content with the progress he's made.

His reflexes have rarely been questioned, and Everton's no-nonsense Scottish manager, David Moyes, said in December that Howard's command of the area is good and, vitally, team-mates seem to listen to him.

'He's been a tremendous signing, and he is another big character, another man, in the dressing room,' Moyes said of Howard, whose Everton was clinched following a successful loan spell.'The players respect him because of the type of person he is, with the way he works, and from that point of view the rest of the squad all like him.'

The feeling appears to be mutual. Howard is proud of Everton's history and the club's exciting future. Though arguably a poorer relation to Liverpool, the team has claimed nine league titles, five FA Cups and one European trophy - and one of its most storied players was a keeper, Neville Southall. Everton has a new state-of-the-art training complex and wants to build a 50,000-seat stadium to replace Goodison Park.

Howard also had an instant rapport with Moyes.

'The one thing for me that I really latched onto when I met David was his honesty,' Howard said.'He said:'When you're good, I'll tell you about that, and when you're bad, I'll tell you.' That's all you can ask for as a player. I love his desire and ambition to win because it matches mine.'

Speaking of desire, ambition - and success - few clubs in the world can match Manchester United, Howard's first, and much publicised, stop in England.

To summarise, his time at Old Trafford went like this: The first season he was regarded as the best goalkeeper in the division, with a stunning performance at Bolton the chief highlight; a loss of form resulted in mostly a backup role behind Roy Carroll in season two; and Howard was a benchwarmer behind Dutch stalwart Edwin van der Sar in 2005-2006.

Despite the way it ended, Howard is not about to bad-mouth anyone.

'To get a chance to play at United and have that be my first real international experience was priceless,' he said.

'I think if you don't go to a team like United, you'll spend your whole career wondering what that's like. I learned so many things, from the good things to the bad, which hopefully every player should [learn] from. I learned from Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, loads of players who were larger than life yet everyday they produced. That really stuck out to me.'

Howard once said being with United was akin to travelling with a rock band. When it was suggested that Everton might be considered a jazz band, he laughed and offered a'that's cool.'

'Obviously two or three clubs in every country will have a similar effect,' said Howard.'They have players that capture everyone's imagination. It was like that with United, it's not like that at Everton. It's different, but I quite like it.'

Howard collected his third consecutive clean sheet as Everton beat Reading 1-0 on Saturday. Despite holding a three-point lead over Liverpool, who have played one fewer game, Howard remains cautious about the club landing fourth spot.

'If we're there with a month to go, it's realistic,' Howard said.'But at this point, it's so close. We have to keep fighting and scrapping.'

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