England manager Roy Hodgson has given his backing to under-fire Joe Hart but admitted he has “concerns” over the Manchester City goalkeeper’s form.
Hodgson has confirmed that he will pick Hart for the upcoming World Cup Group H qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland, but said the player’s confidence may have been affected after his disappointing performance in his club’s 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich on Wednesday night.
“I have great faith in Joe Hart and he will start in these two qualifiers,” Hodgson said. “I’m sure he’s not happy with the criticism, I’m sure he is not happy with the goals he has let in that he could have stopped, but he has never let me down and I have every confidence and every faith that he will put this behind him.
“I think goalkeepers are always going to be in a position where they are in the firing line if they make a mistake. I believe that Joe will shrug this off, but you cannot deny that your confidence improves when you get rave reviews and your confidence is hit when you get criticised.
“If I say: ‘I have no concerns about Joe’, I could be accused of being blind to the situation that has developed. Joe is a proud man and, when he is being criticised, I’m sure he’s not happy.
“We need experienced players who have been tried and tested, and if you look at the goalkeepers we have with that criteria, Joe is clearly the No. 1. All I can say is I firmly believe in Joe Hart -- I firmly believe he is the man for the job.”
Hodgson also hit back at the accusations that he is promoting a dour style of play, with former England striker Gary Lineker among those who criticised the performance in the uninspiring 0-0 draw against Ukraine last month.
“The Ukraine game was always going to be very difficult for us,” he said after a result that leaves his team one point clear at the top of Group H with two games remaining. “The ex-England players I’ve spoken to were very positive about our performance because they know how hard it is to get results in these places.”
He dismissed the idea that the performance in the Ukraine had been “joyless” as “a bit harsh”.
“Ukraine didn’t do anything more in the game than we did and it was more incumbent on them to do more as the home team, but I am not concerned about that,” he said.
“I understand people watching it on the TV didn’t see it as an inspiring performance, but we had a lot of responsibility in that game. We wanted to keep qualifying for Brazil in our hands. We would not have been thanked if we flew forward and ended up losing the game.”
Hodgson said that he had opted to leave Manchester United’s Ashley Young out of his latest squad as “others are ahead of him in the queue for a place in the team at this moment”, but he was pleased to have a first-choice strike force reassembled after Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge missed the Ukraine clash through injury while Danny Welbeck was suspended.
Rooney was an injury doubt for this latest squad after he sat out Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday, but Hodgson is confident he will be fit to start.
“We are reliably informed that Wayne’s injury is not serious and the more choices I have the better,” he stated. “Rickie Lambert has done well, Danny Welbeck played very well against Moldova and Jermain Defoe is another option for us. It’s also good to have Daniel Sturridge available again.
“However, I have had a smile on my face naming England squads in the past and then a few days later, when the final Premier League games are played, that smile has been wiped away. Hopefully all the players are available for next week.”