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Does Pep fancy Hart? England No.1 must prove himself after Bale error

09:00 GMT+3 20/06/2016
HD Joe Hart England Wales Euro 2016
The Manchester City goalkeeper made his latest howler on the biggest of stages, prompting question marks over his place at both club and international level

As Gareth Bale wheeled away to celebrate against England on Thursday, it was hard not to once again question the role of the opposing goalkeeper in the Real Madrid star’s free-kick success at Euro 2016.

Just as Slovakia’s Matus Kozacik made the grave error of taking a step towards his wall-side when conceding Wales’ first finals goal in 58 years in the Group B opener in Bordeaux, Joe Hart will undoubtedly have been disappointed with inability to get a stronger hand to Bale’s second set-piece goal of the tournament in Lens.

Having got two hands to the ball, Hart would have expected to save Bale’s effort but didn’t. His slight delay in getting down to the shot may have had a big say in the end result. And unfortunately for the England No.1, this is hardly the first time he has made a high-profile error to undermine his position.

Mistakes at club level against the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Leicester City have led to criticism and even exclusion from the Manchester City side before. Costel Pantilimon was promoted to deputise for a significant spell of the 2013-14 season after a string of errors from Hart, and only after he had regained his club place did the 29-year-old’s participation at the following summer’s World Cup become secure.

Some have called for Hart to be dropped for Monday’s clash with Slovakia following his error against Wales, but Roy Hodgson’s problem at international level is that his number one has no equals within the England set-up. Jack Butland is currently unavailable due to injury, but few would claim him to be as good as Hart when all is said and done. Meanwhile, Fraser Forster and particularly Tom Heaton, Hodgson’s options in his 23-man squad in France, are even further down the pecking order.

But while Hart’s position in the England goal seems secure, his City future could be altogether more cloudy, with new manager Pep Guardiola having already made a play for Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen as a potential replacement as first-choice keeper.

Guardiola has been an outspoken supporter of ter Stegen for a number of years, and Hart’s inability to hold down a place unconditionally over recent years will hardly help is cause in convincing the Catalan coach that a new No.1 is not among his priorities. Instances like the one in Lens on Thursday can only help to make up Guardiola’s mind that greater stocks are necessary.

It all adds up to a potentially troubling time for Hart and for England. Even if Guardiola fails to convince ter Stegen he shouldn’t sit and wait for more opportunities at Barcelona, it is clear that a goalkeeping addition is on the agenda.

If that were to happen, then no longer would Hart be an automatic pick – a luxury he has been afforded for far too long. Even when he was dropped in favour of Pantilimon it was abundantly clear he would be back in the good books before long. But that is not a game Guardiola plays.

And if Hart cannot pin down a regular club place, then that will leave the England manager – whether Hodgson or a successor – having to decide whether he should be choosing a goalkeeper playing second fiddle at club level or turning to arguably inferior alternatives.

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