If there was any doubt in Roy Hodgson’s mind about who would be his goalkeeper for the World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland, he did not let on earlier.
Speaking less than 24 hours after Hart was beaten at his near post by first Franck Ribery and then Arjen Robben, Hodgson made clear that his faith remained in the Manchester City goalkeeper.
“I believe Joe will shrug this off,” Hodgson said. “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.”
Hodgson is not without alternatives, after another impressive performance from Fraser Forster for Celtic against Barcelona this week. For the risk-averse Hodgson, though, there is no possibility of changing now. Forster will not be thrown in against Stefan Jovetic, against Robert Lewandowski. In the games that matter most, experience counts first.
“We're pleased with Fraser, he's done very well and we're impressed with him. He has a great future. But it would be a mistake to suggest he should be given the responsibility going into these two vital games.”
“The players with the most experience and have the shirt have to show they are worthy of it in these two games, then we'll see what Fraser can do between now and the summer. I have faith in Joe Hart. I have no doubt he'll come through these games, get us through and will put that bad form behind him.”
If England are to beat Montenegro and Poland – which they failed to do away from home – they may have to play with more freedom than they did in their last game, the turgid 0-0 draw in Ukraine. Hodgson was fiercely criticised for England’s approach that night, but he firmly defended the performance today.
Rejecting the claim that England’s football was ‘joyless’, Hodgson said that England’s position was still an enviable one.
“I don't think the Ukraine fans were full of joy with their team's performance. They didn't do anything more in the game than we did, and it was more incumbent on them to do more. But I know we're capable of playing some very good attacking football. We've shown that, even against Brazil. This game was a special game, and we had a lot of responsibility in that game. We had to make certain we kept the chances of qualifying for Brazil in our own hands. I don't know if we'd have been thanked that much by giving a cavalier performance flying forward but losing the game.
“It's up to the players now to see these games as a great opportunity. We mustn't be worried about the games, about not playing well because, if we do that, we won't play well. The fans have to get behind us and cheer us on.”