Joe Hart’s reinstatement as starter in goal was surely among the prevailing subplots today as Manchester City scooped up three valuable road points, upending Fulham along the Thames in West London.
This was Hart’s first Premier League start since late October, after which City manager Manuel Pellegrini made Costel Pantilimon his first choice between the sticks.
The Romanian’s performance in City’s 6-3 win over Arsenal opened the door for conversation of a change, however. Pantilimon’s wobbles simply didn’t look befitting of a No. 1 for a true Premier League challenger.
(Of course, neither did Hart back when he looked so oddly out of sorts, especially on a notable Fernando Torres goal for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the proverbial final straw for Pellegrini.)
Since then, Hart has found himself in goal only three times, but none in matches that City would consider highly important. The subplot of the subplot here is that Hart, 26, was in the awkward position of being England’s No. 1 while not being the starter for his club. That surely would not last – which is why the 26-year-old getting back into City goal was so important.
So, how did he do?
Hart wasn’t at fault on either City goal conceded – most certainly not for the freakish own goal off Vincent Kompany, a very bad moment for a man who manufactures so few of them.
On a windy and rainy day, Hart produced a couple of swell saves off Adel Taarabt. Both came within the game’s first 30 minutes, when the home team really did press the visitors, making the title contenders work very hard to achieve their road success.
His very best was in the 13th minute, when a fierce Taarabt shot took a deflection and needed not just the best of reflexes, but a very strong left hand to push the screamer well away from danger.
There’s still something for Hart to prove, but it looks like England’s No. 1 will get his chance during City’s busy holiday spell ahead.