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WITH their FA Cup fifth round meeting with Preston just a couple of days away, Everton boss Walter Smith faces a goalkeeping dilemma after losing first-choice keeper Paul Gerrard to a groin injury just eight minutes into last Saturday`s defeat at Southampton - giving youngster Steve Simonsen the chance for his Premiership bow.

However, with Wembley in his sights, the Toffees boss seems to prefer experience and has recalled Norwegian stopper Thomas Myhre from a break in his homeland. A close-season injury to Myhre gave Gerrard the chance to claim the goalkeeping spot for himself. But will Everton now miss Gerrard, or can the returning keeper justify his manager`s faith?

Of all the first choice keepers in The Premiership, only five men have saved a higher percentage of the shots they have faced than the 75 per cent Gerrard has stopped, and no-one can match his total of 96 saves. The fact that he has been so busy and still managed such a level of consistency makes his performances even more impressive.

Last season, Myhre played every league match for Everton and saved 73 per cent of the 176 attempts on his goal. While this means he was not one of the better shot-stoppers last term, he is not too far from equalling Gerrard`s performances in this.

The Norwegian has maintained the same level of performance this season. In the three league matches he played during a month long loan-spell at Rangers, he again saved 73 per cent of the shots he faced.

Everton should, however, feel the benefit of Myhre`s aerial ability. Of the 24 crosses Gerrard has come for this season, he has only hung on to 85 per cent of them - only Massimo Taibi, David James and Kevin Pressman are less successful.

By comparison, Myhre successfully held 94 per cent of the crosses he tried to claim last season, and has held on to the three he came for during his winter spell in Scotland.

There is no doubt the Toffees will miss the assurance of having one of the Division`s sharpest shot-stoppers behind them as they try to beat Preston and progress to the quarter finals of the cup.

However, Myhre was Everton`s only ever-present player last season, and, with his performances showing no sign of decline despite long periods of inaction, there is no reason why he cannot reclaim his status as the Merseysiders` number one.

Stuart Condie