TWO WEEKS after urging Joe Hart to "stay in goal and make some saves" following Manchester City's dramatic loss against Real Madrid, Roberto Mancini was left thanking the goalkeeper for saving his team from an "incredible defeat" at home to Borussia Dortmund.
England No 1 Hart, criticised by Mancini in Madrid following his blunt post-match assessment of City's 3-2 defeat, produced at least seven stunning saves against the German champions at the Etihad last night.
But for Hart's heroics and Mario Balotelli's 90th-minute penalty, Manchester City would have been marooned on zero points in Group H and facing elimination at the group stage for the second successive season.
Yet after being the victim of Mancini's anger in the Bernabeu, Hart was praised by the Italian after saving City from a heavy defeat against Dortmund.
"Joe Hart saved us from an incredible defeat," Mancini said. "He saved everything, so I should say thank-you to him. He gave a fantastic performance. I don't know if it is the best performance in football history, but he did very well."
Hart, still to keep a clean sheet this season, tipped two Dortmund efforts onto a post in the first-half before denying Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogan after the break. He was unable to keep out Marco Reus's 61st-minute opener, caused by a misplaced Jack Rodwell pass, but Hart played down his performance and insisted it was crucial that City emerged with a point following Balotelli's spot-kick.
"It could have been 10-all tonight and I thought their 'keeper was fantastic," Hart said. "I can't remember making as many saves before.
"I thought Dortmund were different class, though. It took a good defensive effort by us to keep it to just one. But we pushed hard because we wanted a point. We needed a point. It would have been nice to win, but we have come out of the game alive.
"I just hope this result is important and that it is not a waste of effort. I hope the effort we have put into the group is not wasted, but this game shows just how tough this group is."
Hart said: "We've got to be happy with a point. I thought Borussia Dortmund were different class. It took a good defensive effort to keep it at one.
"For them to be the seed four team shows what a group we're in."
Mancini was equally keen to condemn the performance of his team, who must now beat Ajax home and away in their next two games to retain any realistic hope of qualification.
He said: "We didn't play well and we conceded a lot of chances again. I am really disappointed in our performance. I know the problem and I will solve it very quickly. If we don't improve it will be difficult but this point could be important.
"Mario's goal was important, like Joe's saves. He did very well but our performance was very poor.
"The Champions League is totally different and when you play against the best players, you need to score when you have chances. We didn't deserve to take this point but in the end it could be important."
Dortmund defender Neven Subotic was angered by the penalty decision for handball and felt he could not get his arm out of the way. The defender said: "I have a hand, I can't cut it off. It was never in my life a penalty."