JOE HART has provided a fair bit of ammunition for the snipers who believe he should be replaced as the No.1 Celtic keeper.

The 36-year-old 75 times-capped England international was not convincing in the champions’ 4-2 opening-day victory over Ross County at the weekend.

Hart will not need CQN or anyone else to emphasise that point. A thorough professional, the former Manchester City star will have already undergone the process of self-analysis.

It’s abundantly clear he is a far superior last line of defence than he displayed against the Highlanders and that was proved by their first goal.

NUMBER ONE…Joe Hart prepares for the new season with a shut-out in the 1-0 win over Gamba Oska during Celtic’s Japan tour.

Brendan Rodgers’ team were already 3-0 ahead and the points were as good as in the bag when Hart lost the flight of a left-wing corner-kick. He got his angles horribly wrong as he allowed the ball to pass over his head where it was met by Jordan White at the far post.

The experienced netminder flapped hopelessly as the effort floated towards the back post, the trajectory clearing the endeavours of Kyogo Furuhashi on the line, struck the inside of the upright and dropped into the net.

Any goalkeeping manual – or common sense – would have decreed that the keeper come and pluck the ball out of the air when it is within such close proximity to his line.

Hart was stranded leaden-footed under the ball and paid the penalty. His critics immediately opened fire.

FLAPPING…Joe Hart unsuccessfully attempts to block Jordan White’s soaring header.

HELPLESS…Joe Hart can only looks on as the grounded Jordan White’s header floats over Kyogo Furuhashi on its way into the net.

Similarly in the 14th minute, he had looked panic-stricken when he came close to conceding a penalty-kick and, even worse, could have been banished from the field to leave the team a man short for the next 76-plus minutes.

To be fair to the shotstopper, he had been left exposed by a dangerous passback from Anthony Ralston. The right-back was under no pressure as he carelessly knocked the ball in the general direction of his own penalty box.

Alarm bells sounded as County striker Simon Murray sensed an opportunity and chased the ball into the box. Cameron Carter-Vickers left the wayward pass for his keeper to clear.

The ball was too low for a header and, of course, Hart couldn’t use his hands. He could have chosen to attempt to volley a clearance, but there was every chance it could have ricocheted off his team-mate or the opponent.

With only milliseconds to make up his mind, he attempted to take the ball on his chest and then drag it wide onto his left foot. His touch was clumsy and Murray sped in to try to take advantage. There was minimal contact between the combatants as the rival attacker swept around the keeper.

With the ball running away from him, Murray stumbled and eventually sprawled flat-out as he screamed for a penalty-kick.

Neither onfield match official Nick Walsh nor his VAR assistant Greg Aitken were convinced and the claim was dismissed.

CHEST A MINUTE…Joe Hart moves to control the ball with Cameron Carter-Vickers and Ross County striker Simon Murray in the vicinity.

TOUCH AND GO…Joe Hart challenges as Simon Murray tries to take advantage. 

HEADING FOR A FALL…the Ross County forward begins to stumble to the ground as the ball races away. Joe Hart can only look on.

Murray, speaking in the Daily Record, saw it this way: “There was an infringement on me and it made me stumble.

“I was trying to stay on my feet and be honest and score. There was contact. The ref said that there was contact, but just not enough for a penalty. If that’s in the middle of the park and I go down straight away then it’s given as a foul.

“It’s a penalty in my eyes.”

He is welcome to his opinion and, let’s face it, another referee and another VAR advisor on another day could have agreed with him.

If Celtic had been left with 10 men and County had scored for any resultant spot-kick, Hart would have been cast as the culprit and Ralston’s part in the mix-up, the awful pass that triggered the incident, would probably have been overlooked or forgotten.

Such is the life of a goalkeeper, football’s Aunt Sally.

However, that doesn’t excuse the fairly feeble attempt to prevent the first goal when the 6ft-plus netminder should be in total command of anything that drops within six yards or so of his goal.

OH GEE…Joe Hart has no chance as Carl Starfelt’s effort thumps into the net for County’s stoppage-time second goal.

CQN is not leading a witchhunt of a player who has made umpteen crucial saves in important games since his bargain £1million move from Spurs two years ago.

In fact, we have encouraged returning manager Rodgers to hand the genial custodian an extension to his contract which runs out at the end of the season. So far he has proved to be the top man ahead of back-up duo Scott Bain and Benji Siegrist.

We doubt if there will be a knee-jerk reaction to Hart’s performance on the first day of the campaign, but, at the same time, the boss may feel it prudent to search for a possible replacement before the transfer window closes at midnight on August 31.

That being the case, Hart faces a make-or-break 24 days in his Celtic career.


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