SOME Everton players have bristled at the thought, but Tim Howard has no problem with suggestions that Everton punch above their weight.
Neither does the USA international care a jot if his team are labelled underdogs by the bookies, ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final.
Because Howard, a World Cup veteran who has already kept goal at Wembley twice for the Blues, has every faith his team-mates can upset those odds.
“Does it suit us to be under-dogs? I think so,” says the New Jersey native. “We seem to play better that way and I don’t think it’s a problem. Everyone likes to call a favourite or an underdog, but generally I don’t think either set of players cares much about it. We’re so focused on the task in hand.
“We roll up our sleeves and get on with it. We do punch above our weight. It’s how people view us and we have success in the role. If people said we were favourites we’d still play the same way anyway.”
Liverpool might have had their woes lately, but the 33-year-old insists nobody in the Everton camp will expect their local rivals to be anything but formidable opponents at Wembley.
“Everton will never underestimate Liverpool. You can’t,” he says. “There’s too much respect and history there. We won’t cloud our judgement with what happened for them against Blackburn or two weeks ago. We need to be right for the day.
“Liverpool always rise to the occasion. It’s a credit to them as a club, and they have players with drive. When the chips are down they take the team by the scruff of the neck and drag them along. We have players like that too.
“Very similar to a few weeks ago before the Anfield game, people would have pegged us to get a result but we got taken to the wood shed.”
Howard has kept more than his fair share of clean sheets lately, as David Moyes’ men have gone unbeaten, but that too, he believes, won’t count for too much at 12.30pm on Saturday.
“As much as the Sunderland game was important, getting the four goals and feeling good about how we’re playing, on the other hand it means nothing,” he says. “Saturday will be a one-off. I hate to say the cliche, but form really does go out of the window. It’ll be intense and it doesn’t mater how the teams have been playing. I get the feeling there will be some twists and turns in the game. That’s what big games are about.”
Howard knows all about big games, after his penalty saves played a crucial part in getting Everton to the FA Cup final three years ago.
It is that experience, which the laid-back former Manchester United man says could be important.
“People on the outside underestimate the experience of what things look like and smell like on these occasions,” he says.
“The feel of the pitch and the surrounding areas etc. When you do it first time it’s daunting, but having done it before it means I won’t be marvelling at the size of the pitch and enormity of the occasion.
“The crowd will be incredible. I’ve played at Anfield and Goodison but I don’t think they’ll measure up because of the sheer mass of people.
“Being a derby will make it even more of an occasion. Both sets of players will be tense, and add to that the bigger stadium, the bigger occasion it’ll be huge.
“But both sides have top players who have played in World Cups and cup finals so hopefully when the nerves settle down it’ll be a good match.”
Howard has been screened by a combination of three top central defenders lately, and he admits it will be tough on one of them to miss out on the starting line-up.
“It’ll be very hard,” he says. “Because those three are the alpha males of the team. Your centre-halves are dominant guys with a big presence. They’re top players and I don’t say that lightly. Unfortunately one will be disappointed and we’ll be disappointed for him. Saying that I feel they will all play their part.”
There will be a key presence missing from the opposing dressing room at Wembley, and Howard acknowledges how much Pepe Reina means to the Reds.
“It will be a blow because he is one of the backbones of that team and that club,” he says. “As talented as he is, they will also miss his presence.
“He’s a big character. You are so used to walking down the tunnel and seeing guys you are going to battle with, that they’re like your armour.
“Not seeing him will be hard for their players – they’ll be missing a piece of that armour.”
Howard insists that he will not be scrutinising his opponents as they gather in the tunnel shortly before kick-off.
“I cant speak for everyone but me personally you read the team sheet or you probably know the night before in this day and age,” he says. “I’m not into mind games, I just sort my own pre-game out and say hello to a few friends if they’re there.
“The big games are all about management. You have to manage emotions and crowd. Because it’s such a big occasion certain players need to help calm others down, whether with body language or communications. Sometimes it’s a few words, other times its a pass.”
Kenny Dalglish’s side have had the better of both meetings in the Premier League this season, but Howard insists nobody in the Blues camp will be looking to settle scores.
“Okay from a fairytale aspect yes there’s a score to settle,” he says.
“But in reality, keeping a clear head is important. If you’re out for blood or revenge you can allow your judgement to become jaded. It doesn’t matter who scored what or who kicked who.
“Afterwards if we walk off victorious it will be that bit sweeter but we will just focus.”
Derbies are normally notoriously tight games, and what if the result is not settled after extra time and the penalty lottery ensues?
“For me it’s a gamble and a game of luck that can turn so quickly, in takers not being right on form,” he says. “Then you bag one and you bag the next. They’re just a crap shoot – luck of the draw. If it goes we’ll take it, but who knows?”