Man City's Joe Hart is by far the best goalkeeper England has, says Jeff Stelling
Joe Hart doesn't deserve so much flak, says Jeff Stelling, even if he is having an indifferent spell.
Last Updated: 26/11/12 11:38am
It's true that he had an indifferent game - indeed you could say he's having an indifferent spell at City at the moment - but for my money he's still an outstanding goalkeeper.
When he does make the occasional slip I think it should virtually pass without comment because he is by so far the best we've got. I don't think that every goal that he concedes should be microscopically analysed.
Reading some of the criticism this morning made me think of the time when my middle son, who is almost 13 now, first went to school and was in contention for the football team. At that point I said to him 'whatever you do, don't tell them you're a goalkeeper'.
Later he came home ecstatic that he was in the team and I said 'that's fantastic - what position are you playing?' When he said goalkeeper, my heart sank.
Why? I've always felt the goalkeeper carries the can for so many things, whether they are his fault or not. It's the worst position to play in - you tend to get little thanks and most of the blame.
Hart was criticised for the first goal against Tottenham last weekend and maybe he was partly at fault for one of the goals in the 2-2 draw with Ajax, but I also see him produce one of the most breath-taking performances that I've seen in my lifetime from any goalkeeper in City's game against Borussia Dortmund.
To my mind he remains one of the very best around even though he has to play behind defences - for club and country - that keep changing their personnel. I struggle to see how that can do anyone any good.
There's also the debate as to whether Hart should have even played last night. Personally, I don't think it's in a manager's interest to get walloped in a mid-week friendly.
It's all well and good for us to say 'this is only a meaningless friendly, why doesn't he change it?' But when England do lose a so-called 'meaningless friendly' there is always plenty of flak flying around and a lot of it is thrown in the manager's direction, so I understand why he would want to go with his first-choice goalkeeper.
The other thing to consider with Joe is that his place isn't under pressure at City - and you might argue, England. So there is an argument for blooding a younger 'keeper in games like this but only so long as it doesn't overly-weaken the side.
By the way, if you haven't seen it you must watch Zlatan Ibrahimovic's fourth goal because it was simply astonishing.
Ibrahimovic is marmite - a lot of people love him, a lot of people hate him and he certainly still has some work to do to convince the majority in England that he is a great performer week in, week out - but put him on a certain stage and he can be inspirational.
Goals like his fourth are the sorts of moments you only get from a footballing genius and I doubt we'll ever see another goal like that again.
It was staggering and left England's raft of youngsters in no doubt about how big a step up it is to international football.
I know some people won't be happy if the likes of Wilfried Zaha don't commit themselves to England now having pulled on the shirt in a friendly. But that doesn't change the fact that he still qualifies to play for another nation and it must be a hugely difficult, emotional decision for him to make.
If he does end up playing for the Ivory Coast then so be it; it's a decision for him, not one that people in the media or otherwise should try to influence. We should just leave it to the boy to decide where his allegiances lie.
The simple matter that he played last night, given the circumstances, must have put a lot of pressure on his performance and I would love to know what was going through his head when he stepped out onto the pitch.
I'm sure it won't have escaped your attention that Hartlepool have appointed a new manager this week in the shape of John Hughes - and about time too because we are nine points adrift of safety at the bottom League One.
Life in League Two is so dangerous because you're only ever a poor run from dropping over the edge into the Conference, which is a darn hard league to get out of.
So we certainly don't want to go back there but the way things are going at the moment we are heading towards League Two at a rate of knots.
John has a fantastic track record and the people I spoke to about him before he got the job - John Collins, Charlie Nicholas and Iain Dowie - were all incredibly positive about him. He has my 100 per cent support.
There's no doubt that he's got a tough job ahead of him but if we can get two or three wins soon we'll be right back in the thick of it. I genuinely don't believe that we are as bad as are position in the league - but now we have to prove it.
Jeff's Gem of the Week
Watford put in an outstanding performance to crush Leeds - winning 6-1 was an exceptional result - but I'm going to go with Preston's 4-1 win away at Stevenage.
It must have been a joy for Graham Westley to go back to his old club, where he did so brilliantly, and get such a fantastic result.
Graham's made more changes than a drag artist there; the ins and outs at the club have been absolutely staggering.
But whatever he's done seems to be working. He looks as though he has a squad that buys into what he wants to achieve.
The one thing I'm still looking forward to seeing at Preston is whether they can work his magic with Lee Trundle, who was one of the surprise signings of the season.
Lee's back in training now; can they conjure up the old magic because Lee was a real entertainer and I'd love to see him playing to his potential again.