McLeish admits Hart may have to play second fiddle at City

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The Independent Football

Alex McLeish has conceded Birmingham have only a "slim" chance of retaining goalkeeper Joe Hart on loan from Manchester City for a second season. But the Blues' manager claims Hart would be "devastated" if he had to return to Eastlands as the No 2 keeper.

Hart has been in superb form during his season-long loan with Birmingham and is in strong contention to be part of England's World Cup squad. But McLeish is pessimistic about the chances of Hart returning to St Andrew's for another spell next season.

He said: "At the moment, the chances of Joe coming back next season are slim. Manchester City haven't made their mind up on the matter. I'm sure if they got into the Champions League, they might want to keep Joe.

"But, saying that, he's a No 1 goalkeeper now and I know he wouldn't be happy sitting on the bench. That's something, if Manchester City decide to keep Joe, that they are going to have to deal with."

McLeish added: "Joe sees himself very much as a No 1 goalie now and it would probably devastate him if he has to sit on the bench next season. But he is a Manchester City player and we have to look at other options."

Maik Taylor is set for a rare outing when Birmingham visit Eastlands on Sunday as Hart will be ineligible to face his parent club.

McLeish has dismissed reports of dressing-room disharmony at St Andrew's as "absolute rubbish". There has been speculation that the defender Liam Ridgewell has handed in a transfer request and midfielder Barry Ferguson is demanding a new deal.

The former Scotland manager concedes initial talks have been held with the likes of Ridgewell and wide player Sebastian Larsson regarding new deals. But McLeish insists any talks have been amicable.

"Those kind of stories about disharmony are rubbish," he said. "There has been no handing-in of transfer requests. There has been no one knocking on my door. The club are having amicable talks with one or two players.

"If we tie them up, we tie them up. If we don't, then we have to look to do something else. But there is no dressing-room disharmony. That is absolute nonsense, absolute rubbish."

Birmingham have several players out of contract in the summer, but McLeish insists no "hard and fast decisions" have been made regarding their futures. And he is challenging them to maintain until the end of the season the form that has kept Birmingham in the top 10 of the Premier League since early December.

McLeish said: "I want to keep everyone on their toes. They have got to keep playing to the standards they have achieved for the majority of the season right through to the end."