HARDLY A FITTING FAREWELL FOR HART
Joe says goodbye after ‘dead rubber’
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