Barnsley stopper Luke Steele talks up Joe Hart before FA Cup meeting with Manchester City
The sides meet at the Etihad with a place at Wembley the prize
Thursday 07 March 2013
Joe Hart is England's undisputed number one and will be for years to come, according to the goalkeeper plotting to outshine him this weekend in Manchester City's FA Cup clash with Barnsley at the Etihad Stadium.
Hart, 25, established himself as England's first choice under former coach Fabio Capello and has started all but two of current boss Roy Hodgson's 13 games in charge.
Jittery displays for England in their friendly defeat in Sweden in November and more recently when City came unstuck at Southampton last month led to criticism, while the emergence of Jack Butland and re-emergence of Ben Foster has reopened the debate on Hart's unequivocal hold on the jersey.
But Barnsley goalkeeper Luke Steele, who will line up opposite Hart in Saturday's quarter-final, insists the City keeper is head and shoulders above any of his rivals and that all criticism is unfounded.
"For me he's the best, he's proved he's the best," said Steele, for whom Manchester United paid £500,000 to Peterborough in 2002 when he was a teenager.
"He's come under a bit of stick this year from certain people, but there's nobody better than him, certainly not English anyway.
"Joe's still young in goalkeeping terms and he's going to make mistakes and get things wrong.
"But people don't allow for that. He's only human and they should remember that.
"There's nobody better in the country for me in that position and he's showed that time and again.
"Last year he won the Premier League title, so you can't get much better than that.
"He's going to be around for years to come and I've got the utmost respect for him."
Steele will have to replicate the man-of-the-match display he produced on his debut for Barnsley in their famous FA Cup win at Liverpool five years ago if David Flitcroft's side are to pull off an unlikely upset.
The Tykes went on to secure a famous win over Chelsea at Oakwell in the next round before losing in the semi-final to Cardiff at Wembley and Steele will draw on that experience at the Etihad.
"It's great to have some experience of these situations," he said.
"To have been there before is a big advantage.
"After that FA Cup run in 2008 I always said I wanted to go back to Wembley and get rid of some demons.
"We lost the game and I have bad memories about it. I want to replace them with good memories.
"To have another opportunity to play there again is huge and if we can do it on Saturday it would be unbelievable."
Flitcroft promised the quarter-final clash will not jeopardise Barnsley's fight against relegation.
Barnsley have won eight of the 13 games they have played under Flitcroft since predecessor Keith Hill was sacked at the end of December.
But Tuesday night's 1-1 draw at Burnley, following back-to-back defeats to Bristol City and Bolton, was not enough to prevent them from slipping back into the relegation zone.
Team selection this weekend, Flitcroft said, would be made with next Tuesday's home league game with Brighton very much in mind.
"Without a doubt, absolutely. The league campaign is key," he said.
"We've clawed our way back into a position that reflects what we've done over the last 13 games.
"We've not taken our focus off the league campaign while we've been on this FA Cup run.
"Most teams do. Ninety per cent of teams do and always have a dip and a downturn.
"It happened with Bradford. Their league form went completely off, but our league form has been very good - two losses in 11 games.
"We're moving forward well and I won't allow this team, this group to lose focus on that.
"It's absolutely vital that our league form is central to what we're doing."
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