A good Hart is hard to find

Southgate’s selection of the West Ham goalkeeper encapsulates our malaise with the national team.

“I expect nothing, yet I’m still disappointed.”

We’re used, at Stoke, to finding ourselves snubbed. We see this regularly enough on Match of the Day, when actual analysis on The Potters is neglected in favour of focussing on our opponents. Though MOTD 2’s focus on our defending at The Hawthorns was very illuminating, it was the exception rather than the rule when it comes to Stoke.

When it comes to the England national team, this Stoke neglect has plagued our years in the Premier League. Matty Etherington was for a time the best English winger in the league, and Ryan Shawcross’ solitary England cap – in THAT game in Stockholm – is scant reward for his exemplary years of service at The Potters.

Once again, we find ourselves with another England manager who seems to be favouring lesser players over better Stoke players. Given previous years, its hard not to take Gareth Southgate’s preference for Joe Hart over Jack Butland as another kick in the teeth for our club.

hart.jpg

I don’t believe the FA have an anti-Stoke agenda. However, it’s hard to shift the nagging suspicion that wearing the red and white harms the perception of our players when it comes to national selection.

Let’s get this clear. Joe Hart is not England’s best keeper. He’s arguably not even in the top two. Whilst I find Hart to be personally likeable, he never quite reached the elite level of goalkeeper and his career has been on the decline ever since. His decision to join Torino on loan was admirable, but it was an unsuccessful venture. Torino’s president summed it up when he said: “we didn’t expect so many mistakes from an England international.”

Hart is on the decline, and our Jack is on the way up. Now, there are certainly reasons to keep Hart as part off the England set-up, but none that justify him being England’s number one at this stage. The sheer denial of Southgate’s claim that Hart is “our best goalkeeper at the moment” will only naturally generate greater apathy towards the England set-up from the Stoke support.

Having seen Shawcross snubbed, Etherington snubbed and Butland denied his rightful place as England number one, it once again feels like snobbery from the FA and their new yes-man.

Never mind the fact that England are tedious to watch, mediocre across the pitch, and that our seasons are continually interrupted by crap friendlies and dull qualifiers – they’re taking the piss. Hart’s weaknesses have become blindingly obvious, and Southgate is only harming his side by persisting with him. I fully expect another group stage exit at the Russia World Cup if this is typical of Southgate’s level of judgement.

Jack has made the most saves in the Premier League of any English keepers this season – nine to Hart’s three. Save for one kerfuffle against West Brom, he’s looked as assured as ever and was simply superb in our win over West Brom. Hart got rinsed by Newcastle last week. Dogged persistence with ‘experience’ over quality has held England back for far too long and will continue to do so. What is even more annoying is that Hart’s experience for England has been an experience of failure. He should have been made to sit on the bench for a lot longer after his howler against Iceland.

We know full well that if Butland were to join a top six side, he’d be straight in there. These may seem the bitter ramblings of a provincial club’s fan claiming conspiracy, but we’ve seen too much of this not to think that Butland’s biggest obstacle to his rightful place in the England side is the club he plays for. I don’t know why we expected anything different.

Go on Malta.

 

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