McLeish places Hart firmly in World Cup running

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The Independent Football

Joe Hart has "a great chance" of forcing his way into England's World Cup squad after making improvements to his game since joining from Manchester City on a season-long loan, according to Alex McLeish.

The Birmingham City manager showed loyalty to Hart after a couple of early-season errors were highlighted and he has responded by helping the Blues climb into the top half of the Premier League during a six-game unbeaten run. The former Scotland manager feels Hart has benefited from working with Birmingham's goalkeeping coach, Dave Watson.

McLeish said: "Joe has done well. He's answered a few critics. People were pressing me to make a change. They don't know him as well as I do.

"He showed the character. Maik Taylor had a fantastic shut-out in the Manchester City game when Joe was ineligible to play but Joe was chosen for the next one and he had a superb all-round game at Liverpool. He had been a little bit hesitant in taking crosses against Sunderland and people started to question that.

"But there were so many other good things that he does which maybe the layman doesn't notice – and that was why we stuck with him. There's also the loyalty factor. I can't start changing my goalkeeper every other week."

McLeish added: "I think England like him and he has got every opportunity. He's got a great chance of making the World Cup squad. He's a massive presence. He works really hard and we've got a goalkeeping coach who drives him relentlessly in Dave Watson. He could be the best thing that has ever happened to Joe Hart. Some things [Joe's] been absolutely superb at and we've loved from day one. Some he's tidied up in recent weeks and he looks a real prospect for England."

McLeish admitted that making Hart's move permanent is not at the forefront of his plans. "There's a long way to go before that could happen. Would it be difficult for Joe to go back to Manchester City and not play regular football? Yes. Joe won't want that. But maybe we could come to some arrangement with Man City if he continues to play to the level he's playing that. But we're not really thinking about that one now."