Roy Hodgson has insisted that he has "every faith" in Joe Hart continuing as England's No 1 and challenged him to prove his doubters wrong in the decisive World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland.
Hart's long period of poor form continued on Wednesday night as he conceded two near-post goals against Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium. While Hodgson, announcing the latest England squad, admitted his goalkeeper's form was "a concern", he unambiguously ruled out the possibility of dropping Hart, and said that shaking off poor performances was a simple part of the job.
"Under a year ago, he was being described as the world's best goalkeeper," Hodgson said. "You don't go from that to someone who doesn't deserve a place in the team. It is a concern, of course. We'd love to be going into this game with all the players in form. But that's not the case. You have some players riding the crest of a wave and others less so. That's how it goes. I have to give them confidence and have confidence in them. They need to go out and perform."
Hodgson was certain Hart would be able to do just that in the two crucial games. "He's a self-confident individual, a lively character. Watching him walk off the pitch last night I'm pretty sure he was disappointed and saddened by a performance he might see himself could have been so much better. But as a goalkeeper if you can't overcome those periods, you can't be a top goalkeeper. He's done that in his career before.
"I believe Joe will shrug this off. I'm sure he's not happy with the criticism or the goals he thinks he should have stopped. This is a fact of life. He's never let me or the team down in my time here. I've every faith he'll have the confidence to put this behind him. Confidence improves with performances that give you rave reviews, not with criticism."
Although John Ruddy and Fraser Forster are also in the squad, neither of them can expect to start next week. "We need experience, players who are tried and tested, players who play regularly at the very top level," added Hodgson. "If you look at the goalkeepers we have with those criteria, he's clearly No 1.
"I'll be accused of being blind to a situation that has developed. I'm not blind. I do realise this is not a good moment for Joe. He's a proud man and a very good goalkeeper, so when he's criticised he's very unhappy. But I still believe in Joe Hart. I strongly believe he won't let England down and he'll play well."
Hodgson did admit that he was feeling as nervous as normal ahead of the two most important games of his tenure so far. "There's a nervous tension I feel before every game. As a player, you feel that. However well you prepare a game as a player or coach, things can still go wrong. You can't be involved at this level and not be nervous."
Hodgson would not be drawn on what would happen if England did not take six points from the two qualifiers, because he believes that they will. "The team, when we put out our best side, is a very good team. I'll have my fair share of sleepless nights [though] and hope that my centre-back doesn't fall over or the centre-forward slips up in front of an open goal."
Hodgson heads for BBC sofa
Roy Hodgson will appear on Match of the Day on Saturday. Hodgson and the show's host Gary Lineker were involved in a public disagreement over England's performance in Ukraine last month, which Lineker described as "awful" – prompting Hodgson to say he was "surprised" by the criticism. But Hodgson called Lineker soon afterwards and the issue was resolved.
England squad for qualifiers
For matches at Wembley against Montenegro next Friday and Poland on 15 October
J Hart (Man City) 26/35
F Forster (Celtic) 25/0
J Ruddy (Norwich) 26/1
L Baines (Everton) 28/19
G Cahill (Chelsea) 27/18
A Cole (Chelsea) 32/105
P Jagielka (Everton) 31/21
P Jones (Man Utd) 21/8
C Smalling (Man Utd) 23/6
K Walker (Spurs) 23/8
R Barkley (Everton) 19/1
M Carrick (Man Utd) 32/29
T Cleverley (Man Utd) 24/11
S Gerrard (Liverpool) 33/105
F Lampard (Chelsea) 35/100
J Milner (Man City) 27/41
A Townsend (Spurs) 22/0
J Wilshere (Arsenal) 21/10
J Defoe (Spurs) 30/54
R Lambert (Southampton) 31/3
W Rooney (Man Utd) 27/84
D Sturridge (Liverpool) 24/6
D Welbeck (Man Utd) 22/18Reuse content