'Utopia' for Pearce as Weaver rescues City

Post-James era suddenly looking up as goalkeeping crisis turns into a wealth of options

By Simon Stone

A major goalkeeping selection headache could soon be looming for Stuart Pearce - and the Manchester City manager could not be more delighted.

When it became apparent David James was intent on taking up a lucrative offer from Portsmouth, it appeared City were heading for a crisis. With only the injury-prone Nicky Weaver available with any Premiership experience, a club who in recent years have boasted the likes of Peter Schmeichel and David Seaman between the sticks looked to be in serious trouble.

Even the £2m arrival of Andreas Isaksson from Rennes came with a bad-luck tag, as the Swedish World Cup keeper suffered an ankle injury in his first week of training which has so far ruled him out of City's Premiership programme. Isaksson could be back in time to face Blackburn on 17 September.

But now the City fans are not too anxious. In Isaksson's absence Weaver has responded in perfect fashion, producing man-of-the-match displays in the draw with Portsmouth and the victory over Arsenal last month, both of which also saw City keep a clean sheet.

Weaver's present deputy, the teenager Joe Hart, has maintained the progress which saw him earmarked for big things prior to his Eastlands move from Shrewsbury, while Kasper Schmeichel, son of Peter, has earned rave reviews in League Two for his performances at Bury, where the Dane is currently on a three-month loan.

So, when Isaksson reports for duty at Ewood Park this week, Pearce is in the happy position of not being able to offer his first- choice keeper an automatic starting berth.

"I like it when I have competition for places," said Pearce. "I like it when I have to make tough calls. At the moment, I have four players vying for a goalkeeping position who are doing well.

"Joe Hart has already shown he is in contention, the reports we have of Kasper are extremely positive, I paid £2m for an inter-national this summer in Andreas and then we have Nicky, who is in the first team at present having kept successive clean sheets. For me, that is Utopia."

The competition Pearce has been craving in other areas of the field is developing too, with Dietmar Hamann set to increase City's midfield options for tomorrow's trip to Reading.

Hatem Trabelsi may do no better than the bench at the Madejski Stadium as he reaches full match-fitness after an extended summer break. But the Tunisian's presence should help the highly promising youngster Micah Richards eliminate the minor lapses in concentration he still tends to suffer from.

Even in attack Pearce is content, despite the lingering disappointment at Andy Cole's departure and Darius Vassell's absence with a knee injury.

Bernardo Corradi is likely to play as a lone striker against Reading. But in the shadows is another star from City's prolific academy, Daniel Sturridge, who turned his back on the chance to join Chelsea to sign an extended contract.

"I didn't want Andy to leave and I won't go back on that, but the situation has opened the door for a few others," said Pearce. "Daniel Sturridge should be thinking it is one less player in front of him now, which should make life a bit easier."

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