By Paul Clennam
Joe Hart could be set for a spell on the Manchester City sidelines as manager Manuel Pellegrini becomes increasingly concerned about the form of England's No.1 goalkeeper.
Hart was at fault as Chelsea snatched a last-minute winner against Pellegrini's side on Sunday, charging from his goal and past the ball as Matija Nastasic attempted to head back to his keeper.
Pellegrini's patience has been worn down since the beginning of the season; he had considered dropping Hart following his poor performance against Bayern Munich but was persuaded by first-team coaches that the 26-year-old needed a public display of support.
But the incident at Stamford Bridge may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, with Costel Pantilimon told that he will start against Newcastle in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday.
Pellegrini, of course, will make a number of changes for the clash at St James' Park but he has made clear to Pantilimon that he will keep his place between the posts if he impresses.
Although Hart has comitted a string of errors in recent months, it is not just his public displays which have concerned his manager.
Pellegrini has become increasingly unsure about Hart, and indeed his England team-mates Joleon Lescott, James Milner and Micah Richards, after monitoring them closely in training since his arrival in June.
The former Malaga boss does not believe Hart's technical ability has improved enough in recent months, despite frequent drills designed to quicken his distrubtion in order to help build attacks quicker - in line with the club's new Barcelona-led philosophy.
Hart's inability to spot a short pass to a defender or deep-lying midfielder has caused Pellegrini great frustration in his short time in Manchester.
Manager and goalkeeper do maintain a healthy working relationship, however, and Hart is happy working with new goalkeeping coach Xabier Mancisidor, but his high-profile errors and failure to improve his distrubution have forced Pellegrini's hand.
Hart's indifferent form stretches back to Roberto Mancini's reign at the Etihad Stadium, and sucessor Pellegrini was given a headache just three days before the Premier League season began when the goalkeeper allowed James Morrison's shot to squirm past him while playing for England against Scotland.
The Chilean decided not to follow in the footsteps of Mancini, who had criticised Hart on several occasions in his final season in charge at the Etihad Stadium, and instead called for him to prove his doubters wrong.
But costly mistakes in away defeats at Cardiff City and Aston Villa followed, before he allowed Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben to score soft goals in the 3-1 Champions League humbling at the hands of Bayern.
Pellegrini saw a positive response from his shot-stopper after eventually electing to stick with him for the following game against Everton, and indeed Hart rescued City with a fine save in the final minute against CSKA Moscow last week.
But Hart, who has been consistently backed by England manager Roy Hodgson throughout his recent spell, is now in danger of losing first-choice status at the Etihad with just eight months to go until the World Cup in Brazil.