His own manager managed to sum it up best earlier in the week. “Joe lacks concentration” said Roberto Mancini, cutting him down to a size impractical for a goalkeeper.
But the Italian had a point. Darren Bent’s much publicised pounce on a Hart error that led to their downfall (although some might suggest that their inability to put the ball in the Villa net despite the hatful of opportunities probably didn’t help) means the man touted as England’s number one for some time to come will have to take reflect and take stock.
Hart’s goalkeeping ability hasn’t diminished from the start of the season when his name was on everyone’s lips. Ashley Young tested him with a good long range effort in the first half while he had to be sharp to narrow the angle and smother the ball with the help of two of his defenders to stop Bent putting Villa 2-0 up in the dying minutes. It’s just the man who started the season on fire has dwindled down to a slight glow after a succession of mistakes prompted his manager to speak out.
In an era marked with English goalkeeping errors most looked to Hart as a beacon of consistency and hoped he would take up where David Seaman left off. The fact he appears to have fallen foul of the same curse that did for the likes of Scott Carson, Robert Greene and David James will worry England fans. What is it about the English goalkeeper gloves that unnerves even the most confident of goalkeepers in possession of them?
Of late Hart has produced more errors than he would have liked; a rushed clearance offering Villa a chance at the weekend, and a mistake in the FA Cup tie against Leicester prompted his manager to suggest “without Joe’s mistake the replay wouldn’t be happening”.
Contrast that with Paul Robinson’s excellent performance against West Brom on Sunday; The man who is still haunted by a bobble of a ball on a cold Croatian night has looked like a new man of late and could well take Hart’s place in goal when Denmark are the opponents in little over two weeks’ time. Although unlikely, the performance of Robinson will likely see football betting patterns move back towards him.
England and Manchester City will rightly believe that Hart is the man for the job in the long run; his natural exuberance and confidence coupled with his extraordinary athleticism make for a lethal combination, and if he can heed Mancini’s warning then the discussion surrounding England’s number one will be no more.
At 23, Hart displays qualities way beyond his years while also betraying his age with some of his decision making. But Mancini is the right man to keep him on track; recent media comments about Adam Johnson gives an indication of his attempts to keep the younger members of his squad grounded and one suspects his comments were designed to do more than criticise Hart. Reports of his downfall are somewhat premature; a clever man would likely place football bets that the unflappable Hart ends the season in the manner he began it.