England manager Roy Hodgson expects Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart to justify his faith in him in next week’s crucial World Cup qualifiers.
Hart returned another questionable display in Wednesday night’s 3-1 Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich at the Etihad Stadium.
Hodgson yesterday maintained the 26-year-old is still very much in possession of the Three Lions’ No 1 jersey as he named the squad to face Montenegro and Poland – games which could seal England’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“I am not blind. I do realise this is not a good moment for Joe,” said Hodgson. “He is a proud man and a very good goalkeeper, so when he is criticised he is very unhappy, but I still believe in Joe Hart.
“As far as I am concerned, he has never let me or the team down in the time I have been working with him. I have every confidence and every faith in him that he will have the confidence to put this behind him.
“I am sure that he is not happy with the criticism, and he is not happy to have let in goals that he thinks he might have stopped.”
Hodgson maintains Hart should still have the support of the squad, with his clean sheets in England’s previous qualifying games against Moldova and Ukraine.
“One cannot deny that your confidence improves with performances that earn you rave reviews, but unfortunately the performances that get you criticised don’t help your performances.
“We have let in three goals in eight games, so it will take a lot more than one bad game for any player before I start suggesting that he is replaced by somebody.
“In these games we need experience, we need people who are tried and tested and play regularly at the top level.”
Hodgson continued: “I think goalkeepers are always going to be in the firing line when he lets a goal in which people think he might have saved.
“To some extent it is a little bit easier to criticise the goalkeeper for what you think is a mistake when you could criticise the midfielder whose poor pass two or three moments earlier has provoked the goal chance in the first place.”
Hodgson has Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy and Celtic’s Fraser Forster, who performed admirably in the 1-0 defeat to Barcelona, as his other options.
The England manager, though, insists now is not the time to opt for anything but experience.
“We are pleased with Fraser, he has done very well and we are 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,” said Hodgson.
“The players with the most experience and have the shirt have to show they are worthy of it in these two games, then we will see what Fraser can do between now and the summer.
“I have faith in Joe Hart. I have no doubt he will come through these games, get us through and will put that bad form behind him.”
In attack, Hodgson is keeping his fingers crossed Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney will be fit after missing the Champions League draw away to Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday because of a shin problem.
Hodgson will aim to pair Rooney with Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge, a player who missed the goalless draw in Ukraine through injury when United forward Danny Welbeck was suspended.
Other than that, the England manager seemed content enough with the 23-man party.
England are currently top of Group H heading into the final two ties, but only a point clear of Montenegro and Ukraine.
“We don’t need to debate how important these games are for us as a team and a footballing nation, but I am hopeful and confident that this group of players will be the ones who take us there,” said Hodgson.