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Sunday 22 April 2018

Hart not Number 1

City 'keeper is in need of a wake-up call and getting dropped could be blessing

Manchester City's Joe Hart. Picture credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
Manchester City's Joe Hart. Picture credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

WHAT do Aston Villa, Southampton, Cardiff, Bayern Munich, Scotland and Chelsea have in common?

They all feature in the hall of horrors which Joe Hart's career has become over the past year.

Twelve months ago, the 23-year-old Manchester City goalkeeper looked indestructible. He was the cocky, opinionated, confident goalkeeper. The best in Europe, some said.

Chances

This weekend, the chances are he will not even be number one at the Etihad Stadium as, after yet another high-profile mistake at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, City boss Manuel Pellegrini weighs up whether to leave Hart on the substitutes' bench, where he spent the League Cup extra-time victory against Newcastle on Wednesday.

City fans should hope he does.

Why? Because Hart's career needs a jolt. A short, sharp shock to hone his competitive edge and his focus.

Until now he has had anything but a shock. He has enjoyed almost total support from former City boss Roberto Mancini, current City manager Pellegrini and, in particular, England boss Roy Hodgson.

Hodgson was not blind to his shortcomings.

He just preferred to back his number one man at a time when England faced fraught qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland, rather than bring in the inexperienced John Ruddy of Norwich, with one cap, or Celtic's Fraser Forster with none.

That was understandable and Hodgson got away with it, but Hart's inconsistencies have continued and now is the time to act. Hart needs to be pushed. He needs to feel there is someone breathing down his neck.

That man at City could be Costel Pantilimon, a Romanian 'keeper who was mostly solid and occasionally spectacular in Hart's absence in midweek.

For England it has to be Forster, a young goalkeeper of burgeoning promise who has proved to be a revelation for Celtic.

Not just in the environs of the Scottish Premier League, but in the matches of undoubted class, such as against Barcelona in the Champions League.

Forster deserves his chance and should get it when opportunity rears its head in two weeks as England take on Chile in a friendly.

Hodgson needs to know he has a number two and a number three goalkeeper with game time and know-how who could slot in if required when the World Cup gets under way in Brazil in June.

Primarily, however, he needs a Joe Hart back to his best.

The sort of Hart who is not only the sharpest shot-stopper in the English Premier League, but one prepared and humble enough to work on the positioning flaws which have stained recent performances.

Mistake

Make no mistake, right now Hart is a howler waiting to happen.

That is no good for City, Hart, or his country. He needs taking out of the firing line.

He needs time to regroup and analyse what others, including Peter Shilton, have identified as flaws in his game.

He still has all the qualities to be England's undisputed number one. He just needs to prove it.

Again.

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