Joe says good­bye af­ter ‘dead rub­ber’

Daily Mirror - - FOOTBALL SPY - BY DAVID McDON­NELL d.mcdon­nell@trin­i­tymir­ror.com

IT was fit­ting Manch­ester City’s fans ser­e­naded Joe Hart with a song about be­ing ditched.

To the tune of Achy Breaky Heart, an 80s hit for Billy Ray Cyrus, they showed their sup­port for the de­posed keeper by urg­ing Pep Guardi­ola not to sell him. But Hart’s love af­fair with City and their fol­low­ers is com­ing to an end, with the Eng­land in­ter­na­tional sur­plus to re­quire­ments un­der Guardi­ola. This amounted to a farewell ap­pear­ance for Hart (left), cap­tain for the night, as City pre­pare to wel­come a new No.1 in Clau­dio Bravo from Barcelona. Sup­port­ers rose to give him a stand­ing ova­tion in the 65th minute, chant­ing: “Stand up if you love Joe Hart.” The 29-year-old pat­ted the club crest on his shirt in re­sponse, but af­ter a decade at City finds him­self fac­ing an un­cer­tain fu­ture.

The next six days are all about find­ing an es­cape route be­fore the trans­fer win­dow shuts.

Was it an in­sult pick­ing him for what was ef­fec­tively a dead rub­ber, or a noble ges­ture from Guardi­ola, al­low­ing him to say a proper good­bye on the pitch.

Only his man­ager knows, but if this was Hart’s fi­nal City ap­pear­ance, he is un­likely to look back on it with great fond­ness, a mean­ing­less game in front of a sta­dium barely two-thirds full.

Along with Hart, Yaya Toure was brought in from the cold for his first ap­pear­ance since the Spa­niard took charge, hav­ing been ex­iled from the first three match­day squads.

A lack of in­ten­sity was the rea­son Guardi­ola gave for Toure’s omis­sion. Here, with the tie al­ready won from the first leg, he was in­cluded from the start.

Toure was one of eight changes from the side that won 4-1 at Stoke, John Stones, Alek­san­dar Ko­larov and Je­sus Navas those who kept their places.

With a 5-0 lead from the first leg in Ro­ma­nia, Guardi­ola shuf­fled his pack, load­ing the bench with stel­lar names, in­clud­ing Ser­gio Aguero and David Silva.

Such in­sur­ance was wise but proved un­nec­es­sary, given Steaua’s fee­ble ef­fort at home and their boss Lau­ren­tiu Reghe­campf mak­ing six changes to his start­ing line-up, ad­mit­ting the game was re­duced to lit­tle more than a train­ing ex­er­cise for play­ers need­ing game-time.

“Don’t sell Joe Hart, su­per Joey Hart, I just don’t think you un­der­stand,” sang City fans with gusto through­out the game.

There were also ironic cheers when Hart, sup­pos­edly dropped for poor dis­tri­bu­tion with his feet, found team-mates with straight­for­ward passes.

Kelechi Iheanacho pro­duced the first chance of the game in the eighth minute, pro­duc­ing an an­gled shot that was no trou­ble for keeper Valentin Co­jo­caru.

Toure sent a dip­ping free-kick a cou­ple of yards wide min­utes later, as City dom­i­nated pos­ses­sion from the off, their op­po­nents show­ing no am­bi­tion.

Against that back­drop, Hart had to wait un­til the 15th minute to get the ball in his hands, com­ing out swiftly to col­lect a hope­ful punt for­ward.

He did not put a foot wrong all night, com­ing off his line to beat Alexan­dru Tu­dorie to the ball with 20 min­utes left, then tip­ping over a goal-bound free-kick from Ni­co­lae Stan­ciu.

Fabian Delph had a shot saved 10 min­utes af­ter the restart, but a minute later made no mis­take and nod­ded in a Navas cross.

But the night be­longed to Hart, who re­minded City of his en­dur­ing value on his 348th and per­haps fi­nal ap­pear­ance, even if Guardi­ola does not rate him.

FAB WAY TO SCORE Fabian Delph gets a hug from Nolito af­ter scor­ing the Manch­ester City win­ner

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