Joe Hart would be the first to admit that some of his performances this season haven’t matched his previous high standards. Following an outstanding season that culminated in title triumph last year, this one will go down as a campaign of ifs, buts and maybes for Hart and his teammates.
This afternoon, the Manchester City goalkeeper will have to be at his very best to keep his side’s slim title hopes alive as they play Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
With the likely return of Gareth Bale to the Spurs side, a clean sheet from Hart will go a long way to securing a vital three points. Leaving London without them will surely see them resigned to a second-place finish come May.
Having been hailed by many as the best ‘keeper of his generation, Hart has had something of a reality-check in recent months; where before he made few mistakes, suddenly he was making blunders, most notably in the defeats to Southampton and Sunderland.
At just 26, Hart is still some way short of his best, a terrifying prospect when you consider how good he is already.
After a less than glistening campaign, he will hope it ends with six league wins and FA Cup success; more a prelude to next season than a happy ending in its own right.
With Tottenham chasing what is likely to be the final Champions League place, a win this afternoon is imperative. With so few games remaining, and with points to make up following Arsenal’s win yesterday, Andre Villas-Boas will make it clear that nothing less than three points will do.
To succeed, they will have to get past Hart, a man you sense takes offence at every goal he concedes, and vows to improve each time.
Both sides need a win today for very different reasons.
With Manchester United picking up just four points from their last nine, Roberto Mancini will not have given up hope – regardless of the sound-bites – of retaining the title. While Spurs know that a Champions League place may be needed to keep one player and attract others.
Gareth Bale is destined for the European elite. Should his current side not get there, there will be plenty of others he could consider.
And so it may come down to a Welshman versus an Englishman. It is a contest well worth watching.
Will Hart be the difference this afternoon? And how important is he to City's chances of future success?
image: © illarterate