WHEN you have provided target practice for Robin Van Persie, it would be easy to get complacent about the threat League One strikers pose.
But Mark Howard last night outlined why he will not be lured into that potentially dangerous trap.
The Sheffield United goalkeeper, who started his career with Arsenal, spoke in glowing terms about the depth of talent which exists throughout the English game.
And, speaking ahead of today’s return to London with Danny Wilson’s side, the 26-year-old used Dave Kitson’s presence at Bramall Lane to illustrate his point.
“People always ask why would this player and that player ‘drop down’ to this level,” Howard said. “But I don’t see it like that at all.
“The standard in the division is rising all the time and it’s really shot up of late.
“Look at Jimmy Bullard. It wasn’t so long ago that he was playing for England and yet he popped up at MK Dons; Alan Smith too.
“The levels are so high right across the board now. There are lads with bags of ability and experience all over.
“You’ve got to be respectful all the time and it definitely keeps you on your toes.”
Howard rubbed shoulders with the likes of Dennis Berkamp, Thierry Henry and Jens Lehmann at Arsenal’s Hertfordshire training complex before departing for Cardiff City seven seasons ago.
Seventy months and five clubs later, the lessons he learned remain pertinent today.
“I was in the academy when the ‘Invincibles’ team was doing its stuff,” Howard said. “To go through the entire (2003/04) Premier League campaign unbeaten - well, I don’t think it will ever be done again.
“Even though I wasn’t a part of it, those players made such an impression on me because you’d see them around the place and they were just so committed, dedicated and focused.
“The longer that run went on, you could just tell nobody was going to get one over on them. They had that mindset.
“That really taught me a lot.”
“I also remember when Robin Van Persie signed and I was the guy they brought out to let him take shots against in front of the press,” Howard continued.
“I was only a young lad at the time. He looked even better than usual that day!”
Howard, who joined United in February after failing to reach agreement with Blackpool, has emerged as a key figure in Wilson’s plan to bring Championship football back to Bramall Lane.
The ex-Northern Ireland international’s squad travelled to Leyton Orient yesterday sixth in the table and still unbeaten in the competition.
Wilson said: “This is going to be tough. Orient have a good manager in Russell.”
* Mark Howard was an unused substitute during the 2005 FA Community Shield between London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.