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Joe Hart still making a case for England number one shirt in Russia

Wednesday 11th April 2018

West Ham United goalkeeper Joe Hart delivered a man-of-the-match performance away at Chelsea on Sunday. On a day when the Blues honored former captain Ray Wilkins, who recently passed away, much was expected of the reigning Premier League champions having lost to Tottenham Hotspur for the first time in almost three decades at Stamford Bridge the previous week. 

Cesar Azpilicueta pointed to his black armband after putting Chelsea 1-0 ahead against the Hammers in the 36th minute. Nothing could have forewarned Antonio Conte's men of what was to come, though. 

Speaking on Sky Sports after Burnley’s 3-0 win against West Ham last month, Ray Wilkins weighed in on the debate regarding Hart’s recent poor form.

Joe is having a bit of a sticky period, an inconsistent period at this moment in time, but he has got bundles of experience. At least he is positive in what he is doing.

With his World Cup spot in jeopardy, Hart chose the right occasion to prove his presence could still be valuable to England. He pulled a string of saves during the 1-1 draw against Chelsea to help the Hammers secure an unexpected point.   

Hart has endured a turbulent time since being deemed surplus to requirements at Manchester City two seasons ago. The four-time Premier League Golden Glove winner, who was among City's top performers for over half a decade, was accused of lacking ball-playing ability. He was also seen as prone to errors.

Pep Guardiola opted to replace Hart with Barcelona's Claudio Bravo. The England goalkeeper was left with no choice but to look elsewhere for regular playing time.

A loan spell at Serie A side Torino seemed the perfect solution. However, Guardiola's lack of trust was difficult to shake off. While in Italy, Hart became prone to mistakes that hadn't previously affected his game. What was supposed to be a refreshing change to help the keeper return to his best ended in disappointment. Hart's short period in Serie A grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons. 

It couldn't have begun any worse. On his debut away at Atlanta, Hart's weak punch resulted in a goal and contributed to his new side suffering a 2-1 defeat. The following month, the keeper spilt a through-ball allowing Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi to score.  

Those weren't Hart's only low points in Italy. His season-long loan at Torino can best be summarized in the club president's words. Urbano Cairo stated that he “didn’t expect so many mistakes,” from Hart.

Having returned to Man City, it was clear Guardiola had no intention of restoring Hart. With two years left on his contract, the England international was sent on loan to West Ham. His time at the East-London club hadn't sparked a revival until recently, though. He's conceded 34 league goals this season in only 17 starts. 

After West Ham axed Slaven Bilic, new manager David Moyes showed faith in Hart. But as if by a twist of fate, Adrian was selected for the match against Hart’s parent club, Man City. The Spaniard's stunning display was almost enough to earn the Hammers a point against the champions-elect.  

Moyes decided to stick with Adrian moving forward. Hart, however, who also lost his regular starting place for England, was given another chance to prove himself. The 30-year-old is now on a mission to regain his reputation for both club and country. 

A clean sheet during a 3-0 victory over Southampton was followed by a superb performance against Chelsea. Hart's series of world-class saves against the Blues enabled his side to pick up a much-needed point in the fight for survival. 

The race to be England's Number one goalkeeper in Russia next summer is on. With Everton’s Jordan Pickford, Stoke City’s Jack Butland and Burnley’s Nick Pope all competing for the role, Gareth Southgate has a huge decision to make. Joe Hart’s recent performances have made the problem even bigger for the England gaffer.

Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.


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