WITH the game deadlocked at 1-1 on the hour mark, Joe Hart once again emphasised his worth to Celtic in Dingwall at the weekend.
Ross County, who had been on the ropes for 58 minutes, had stunned the champions with an equaliser when Alex Iacovetti headed in from close range following a right-wing corner-kick.
Moments later, new Bhoy Moritz Jenz was booked for a challenge on Jordy Hiwula and referee Don Robertson was quick to award a free-kick just outside the box.
NUMBER ONE…Joe Hart is Celtic’s man in possession of the first-team place.
Owura Edwards, who had just swung in the corner that had picked out his team-mate at the leveller, placed the ball and summed up the situation.
Hart erected a wall in front of him, but his defenders could only have heard the whoosh of the ball as the County player fizzed a deadball effort through their ranks and bang on target.
The reflexes of the 35-year-old 75 times-capped England netminder matched the lightning pace of the shot as he launched himself to his left to get a strong hand to the thunderous attempt and halt its progress towards the back of his net. He stunned the ball, dived on it and immediately bounced back to his feet in at attempt to set a counter-attack in motion.
ON GUARD…Joe Hart is on his line as Ross County’s Owura Edwards sizes up the free-kick situation.
WALLOP…the County winger fires the ball through the defensive wall.
S-T-R-E-T-C-H…Joe Hart dives to his left as the ball hurtles on target.
BLOCKED…the ball bounces up after Hart has taken the oomph out of Edwards’ shot.
SAFE HANDS,,,Hart throws himself on the ball to deny the County player.
UP, UP AND AWAY…Hart gets to his feet to turn defence into attack and, interestingly, three of his Celtic team-mates are already heading upfield.
Hart’s startling save was just about forgotten as the Hoops sealed the points with two late goals from Jenz and Liel Abada, but it’s obvious to state that a goal for Malky Mackay’s side at the vitally important stage could have put an entirely different complexion on the final scoreline.
The shotstopper has two years left to run on the contract he signed when he agreed a £1million switch from Spurs 12 months ago.
At the stage, Hart’s career was at the crossroads after three years in soccer’s twilight zone at Burnley and the London club.
As they say in football circles, it looked as though his future was behind him.
HAVING A BALL…Joe Hart is in command as he prepares to launch the ball downfield in a swift counter-attack. Images courtesy Celtic TV.
Hart thanked Ange Postecoglou for “making an old donkey like me feel young again,” as CQN reported in May.
Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson was No.1 choice at Celtic until a persistent shoulder injury forced him to retire at the age of 39.
Hart will be 37 when his current deal expires. Surely a contract extension will be on its way long before then if he continues to produce fabulous and crucial saves like the one at Dingwall on Saturday.
Get it done, Celtic.