Bulgaria coach Plamen Markov denied yesterday that he had risked Manchester City winger Martin Petrov's health by naming him in the starting line-up in last week's World Cup qualifier against Georgia.
Petrov limped off in the first half after aggravating a knee injury which he had only just recovered from. He had played almost 90 minutes against Italy four days earlier but had made only short appearances for his club just before that.
Manchester City manager Mark Hughes reacted angrily after news that Petrov would be out of action for a significant amount of time – but Markov said he saw no reason to feel guilty. "Martin had no complaints before the match," Markov said. "I see no logic in not fielding him."
Another Manchester City player in international action last week was goalkeeper Joe Hart, and the Englishman has been backed to get bigger and better for club and country.
Hart was expected to return between the posts last night in the Premier League match against Newcastle at St James' Park following a hectic international schedule. After he had helped England Under-21s defeat Wales to clinch a place in the finals of the European Championship he was drafted into the senior squad for the match in Belarus. Although the World Cup qualifier was just a watching brief, it represented another learning curve for Hart.
He was named No 1 at Eastlands last season by Sven Goran Eriksson and that decision was endorsed by Hughes when he succeeded the Swede as City manager in the summer.
Former City goalkeeper Joe Corrigan believes Hart has the ability to enjoy a long and successful career. He said: "Joe is potentially a very good goalkeeper. I hope he continues his progression and gets to where he should be. He has a good set of hands, is tall, kicks the the ball well and is a good shot-stopper. Some people have commented he might need building up but I don't think that is necessarily so. That will come with age – it is just experience he needs as well."
Corrigan, now in his fifth season as goalkeeping coach at West Bromwich, revealed that they tried to sign Hart from Shrewsbury when Bryan Robson was in charge. But City had more financial muscle and he moved to Eastlands in May 2006. Corrigan added: "We identified Joe when he was at Shrewsbury but we couldn't match the money City put down for him."
Hughes is looking for his side to build up a head of steam and climb the table. "We are not there yet," he said ahead of last night's match. "On our day we can give anyone a game because of the attacking and technical ability we have in the side.
"But if we are to challenge the top four, we have to win on a consistent basis. That's what the top four teams do. We do not have that capacity yet. We are working on that and trying to get better. We could do with winning five or six games on the trot as that would help our cause."
The Everton defender Phil Jagielka meanwhile believes his side are struggling with a crisis of confidence this season. Amid more speculation that an overseas buy-out is close, Everton have gone seven games without a victory, and Jagielka believes that things must change – starting with Saturday's visit of champions Manchester United to Goodison Park.
Jagielka admits Everton are capable of one decent half each match, but rarely two. He said: "We would prefer to be putting two good consecutive halves together in each game, but at the moment it doesn't seem to be working like that. We've got to start doing that. We have got Manchester United next and that is going to be another hard game, and we will have to keep it together for the whole game next weekend."
He added: "We need to start backing ourselves a little bit more. We are playing better than we did at the start of the season, but the results are pretty much the same. Our aim is to put it right against United – our belief won't wane this week."
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