Saturday 24 March 2018

Hart has nowhere left to hide after latest horror show

'[Hart] looked a beaten man as he was undone by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson with a shot that had neither great accuracy, unstoppable power, nor from which he was unsighted' Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
'[Hart] looked a beaten man as he was undone by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson with a shot that had neither great accuracy, unstoppable power, nor from which he was unsighted' Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Jason Burt

In the tunnel, Joe Hart was the most vocal England player - as has become the custom - urging his team-mates to move the ball quickly; telling them they are the better side; that they will impose themselves to win. Pumped up as usual. Shouting. Barking it out. Focus - that was the key word.

Oh, the cruel irony.

On the pitch he was quickly deflated. He looked agonised as Ragnar Sigurdsson beat him from close-range to draw Iceland level. He then looked a beaten man as he was undone by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson with a shot that had neither great accuracy, unstoppable power, nor from which he was unsighted.

It was a deliberate side-footer and, once more, Hart was beaten down to his left.

Even his movement in setting his body late, in failing to react quickly enough and then in appearing to shovel the ball behind him and into the net was a carbon-copy of the crass way he tried to prevent Gareth Bale's free-kick in the group game in Lens against Wales. But at least Bale's shot had some power.

After that goal, former Germany and Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann accused Hart of looking scared - it was why he set up a defensive wall even though the free-kick was way out - but how can that be? How can he appear scared? Psyched out?

He appears brimming with confidence, or so he shows the world, but then crumbles.


Getting so hyped up cannot help, even if it gives the appearance of dominating and being in control. And it is not as if questions have not been asked about it before.

Even going back to the last European Championships, in 2012, when he was put in his place by Andrea Pirlo with that 'Panenka penalty' in the quarter-final shoot-out in Kiev. Hart was at it again in the World Cup in Brazil two years later, whipping up the crowd when England faced Uruguay, only for him to be twice beaten by Luis Suarez.

He will argue that it is his confidence that has made him what he is, but maybe it is hindering him also; affecting his focus to appear more like bravado.

Hart certainly needs to address it and, on this form, he will not be receiving a 'pep talk' telephone call, as Raheem Sterling did - although Hart's Manchester City team-mate did his cause no good with his performance after being recalled - from the new manager at the Etihad, Pep Guardiola.

The rumours about Marc ter Stegen's potential arrival at City from Barcelona will not go away.

The Hand of Cod; Fish Fingers. It was unthinkable that Hart would concede two first-half goals to Iceland. This was an extraordinary moment in his career and maybe he could see the headlines and see this Euro 2016 campaign slipping away from England just as the ball squirmed slowly past him.

And he was undoubtedly affected. Like Robert Green in the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 - when Clint Dempsey's shot went through his legs and dribbled over the line for the United States - the ignominy would be enveloping, hard to come back from.

The goal meant that four of the first eight efforts on target Hart has faced in these finals have gone in. And that is simply not good enough. Not, also, when the quality of those strikes are examined; not when he has a reputation as one of the best in the world.

Hart came into this tie aged 29, surely in his prime, and earning his 63rd cap. He is one the most experienced players in an otherwise young England squad. He has been the undisputed No 1 for the past six years, having been installed by Fabio Capello and then endorsed by Roy Hodgson.


Hart's clean sheet against Slovakia also means he is now on a grand total of 34 for England, just one behind Gordon Banks in third place on the all-time list, which makes his shaky form here even more extraordinary.

Even when he was having a hard time at City three years ago, briefly replaced by manager Manuel Pellegrini, he kept his England place.

There have been previous errors for his country - in a friendly against Scotland at Wembley in 2014, when he let in a James Morrison shot; a bad clearing header against Sweden in Stockholm in 2012 that was ruthlessly punished by Zlatan Ibrahimovic - but nothing like this and nothing like the Bale blunder.

The spotlight is on him. His place has to be in doubt and he would be under even more pressure had Jack Butland been fit for these finals. The Stoke City goalkeeper will certainly be pressing hard to replace Hart for the forthcoming World Cup qualifying campaign.

Without sounding too dramatic, there was maybe even a case for replacing him at half-time in this match, given the way his errors appeared to affect the rest of the team, with captain Wayne Rooney attempting to calm down a jittery defence.

The panic spread, although Hart did, eventually, execute a save as he pushed away an overhead kick from Sigurdsson, who, of course, had already beaten him.

But it was not redemption, not with what had already gone before.

Southampton's Fraser Forster was on the England bench and appeared an option, although Hodgson knew he would almost certainly be ending Hart's international career if he did take him off.

But then, with England losing this, Hodgson himself was gone anyway.

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