Joe Hart dreams of rare quiet night against minnows San Marino
England's first-choice goalkeeper wants to put his patchy recent club form to one side and just focus on San Marino's strikers
Joe Hart will prepare for England's World Cup qualifier against San Marino like any other game. He will watch the clips of the strikers shooting at goal – shouldn't take too long – and work through his usual routines with Dave Watson, the team's goalkeeping coach.
Then Hart will take up his position between the posts tomorrow night in Serravalle and hope that it is a quiet night. Especially, no shocks like the infamous Davide Gualtieri goal after eight seconds in 1993 when Stuart Pearce sold David Seaman short with a misjudged back-pass. "My idea of being in goal is to do my bit and stay out of the way," Hart says. "If that means taking two goal-kicks, that's fine by me."
A bit of quiet would make a pleasant contrast to the last month for Hart, punctuated by the ups and downs of his own form and the dramatic fading of Manchester City's defence of their Premier League title.
Through good or bad, their goalkeeper does not duck the tough question and at St George's Park with England this week he pulled no punches on Manchester United.
"We have been up against a killing machine that has kept turning out results no matter," Hart says when it came to the effect of United's remorseless march to the title.
It was a blunt way of putting it and the kind of words that might yet end up on those knock-off T-shirts that get sold outside Old Trafford. "It has not been a perfect season," he added, "and it needs to be pretty perfect to win this league."
As for Hart himself, there have been mistakes, for the second Southampton goal in City's 3-1 defeat last month, and other chances he could have coped better with, like Adam Johnson's goal against City for Sunderland. Then there have been the good moments too, such as his penalty save from Chelsea's Frank Lampard at the Etihad Stadium.
There is nowhere to hide for England's No 1, although he has a perspective that you might not imagine from one just 25 years old and 28 caps into his international career. He has said many times before that there will always be the bad days to go with those when he walks off the pitch a winner.
He has been established as England's first choice for almost three seasons now and acclaimed, over that time, by the likes of Wayne Rooney to be the best goalkeeper in the world.
As things stand with City at the moment, 15 points behind United with nine games left to play, a break with England is not a bad option.
This time Ben Foster is back in the squad which, along with Fraser Forster of Celtic, means that England have their strongest group of goalkeepers for a long time. Hart is still undeniably No 1, but having been warned by Roberto Mancini that his place in the Manchester City team is dependent on form, he knows that it can be lost just as easily.
City have not given up on the league title yet, Hart says, although it might give up on them soon. "We worked so hard to get that title we are never going to just give it away. I'd imagine from the outside it looks that way but that's just not the case.
"We are working hard, it is a tough league, it's hard to win games. Unfortunately when we do lose, United stretch that lead and it has been disappointing. But we will keep going."
As for the criticism of his own form he has been here before. "You have to park it to one side after every game, whether you have won 5-0 or you've had a bad result. You have got to take the positives as best you can, work on the negatives and on to the next [game]."
Mancini's take on Hart's situation was pretty blunt in an interview before the Chelsea game last month. "It's simple," he said.
"If Joe continues to make mistakes, he goes on the bench." When that is put to Hart he does a good job of not flinching.
"You have got to be able to move on. Like I say, everyone is going to have their opinion, you have to take it as best, the positives, for what you are trying to achieve and move on from there."
Would it be best left in private? "That's for behind the scenes [the conversations between the two] but he is free to do his press conferences as he feels and if he feels you are not up to it... all managers have their different way of doing things."
Asked whether he was a victim of his own high standards, he was unequivocal. "I'm definitely not a victim. I love playing, I love training hard, I love playing hard and I love winning. I have to accept when I'm playing that there's going to be another side and you have to take that sometimes.
"I'm still focusing on getting 29 and 30 caps. Being totally honest, I'm only thinking about staying in the side for England and City, trying to be the best I can and the two best levels that I can to carry on doing my job."
As he is often given to say, Hart reiterated his belief this week that anyone on their day can score past a top international goalkeeper. "You could go and play in a five-a-side down at the park and someone could score past you," he says. "It doesn't matter who they are."
He will be prepared come Friday for San Marino and knows that, as ever, he will be judged on performance, not reputation.
Butland: I am happy taking things at my own pace
Jack Butland feels it is important he continues to take things step by step with his career – something he sees playing for England Under-21s at this summer's European Championship as being integral to.
Much has happened to the goalkeeper over the past year, with him being included in the senior England squad for Euro 2012, making his full debut against Italy in August and joining Stoke for £3.5m in January before being loaned back to Birmingham.
Butland, who lines up in a friendly against Romania at Wycombe's Adams Park on Thursday night, said: "It has been a big development curve in my career this year. I am very pleased with everything that has happened – it is something to look back on and be really proud of, with everything that happened last summer and this season.
"I'm really pleased with the opportunities I was given and I'm looking forward to what is next. I'm still young, especially as a goalkeeper, and my development has got to be steady – I can't push myself too much too fast."
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