JOE HART arrived on a bargain £1million three-year deal from Spurs in August as Celtic tried desperately to solve their No.1 problem.

Vasilis Barkas was seen as the answer the previous summer following his £4.5million switch from AEK Athens, a move that made him the most expensive netminder in Hoops history.

However, the Greek failed to impress in a series of unconvincing displays and his back-up, Scott Bain, didn’t fare much better when he was brought in to try to bring stability to a last line of defence that shipped far too many goals behind a shaky rearguard.

Neil Lennon was even forced to turn to Northern Ireland rookie Conor Hazard in the delayed 2020 Scottish Cup Final when the youngster became the hero with a double penalty-kick save in the dramatic shoot-out against Hearts after the grande finale had finished deadlocked at 3-3 following extra-time.

Kristoffer Ajer thumped the decisive effort beyond his former team-mate Craig Gordon to ensure the phenomenal quadruple treble for the Parkhead club.

ROARING SUCCESS…Joe Hart with the newly-won League Cup in December.

At the same time, Hart, capped 75 times by England, was out of the picture at Spurs and didn’t play a solitary Premier League game throughout the campaign.

The 34-year-old shotstopper could never have envisaged such a dramatic turn of events in the summer when he accepted the challenge to become a key man in Ange Postecoglou’s startling transformation of a squad that had limply completed the previous term without silverware for the first time in 11 years.

Hart has already played his part in the team winning the Premier Sports League Cup in the 2-1 triumph over Hibs in December while pushing to the top of the Premiership with a three-point advantage with eight games to play.

The former Manchester City star will be between the posts again this evening when Celtic take on Dundee United at Tannadice in the crucial Scottish Cup quarter-final.

Postecoglou takes his players to Tayside for an encounter that could see them stretch their unbeaten domestic sequence to THIRTY outings.

All of which means very little for the experienced Hart who lives in the here and now.

NUMBER ONE…Joe Hart is poised for his 46th Celtic outing tonight.

The international shotstopper doesn’t do statistics and emphasised: “We play to win every game. The run is big and it’s great, but we are literally one game at a time.

“We see the games in front of us as winnable, but they are only winnable if we apply ourselves and we don’t take our foot even slightly off the gas.

“I’ve always been the kind of guy who plays for my team, the team which employs me and I throw everything that I’ve got into that team.

“Respectfully, before I came here, I didn’t know much about Celtic just as I didn’t know much about Wolverhampton Wanderers or much about anyone that I wasn’t necessarily involved with.

“In terms of expectation, I didn’t have any, but once I arrived I’ve loved being a part of the environment, the feeling which comes with being a part of Celtic Football Club and being part of the group of supporters home and away.

“As a group, it’s something I’m enjoying getting to know. Being part of something here which wants and expects victories in everything that we do, Cup games are as important as every game. It’s as simple as that, every game is as important as each other.

“We are looking to improve and build as a group and tonight is no different.”

SAFE HANDS…Joe Hart deals with a shot as he continues his impressive debut season at Parkhead.

Hart, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “I’ve never changed my mindset – ever. Whether I was first choice, second choice, third choice, I’ve always had the same mentality and the same application when it comes to playing or not playing.

“I feel exactly the same and I’ll always prepare exactly the same. That’s how I’m built, that’s how I’m wired up and that’s how I get the best out of myself. Even when, for instance, I wasn’t playing last year and wasn’t seen as the first choice, I still saw myself as a key member of the squad.

“Just exactly as I would if I was playing. I don’t think you can afford to think like anything else.”

Hart, who will make his 46th Hoops appearance tonight, added: “When it comes to growing, the biggest bond is the assessment on how you look at things.

“With Ange as the manager we have clear guidelines that we are trying to work towards and there is a philosophy that we are buying into now.

“Even daily we are still learning things which we are trying to get better at so the winning is great, but us trying to grow as a group is more important. I feel that most importantly we know each other on the pitch.

“Whether relationships blossom off the pitch is down to human decisions, but there’s a respect and a lot of loyalty to each other on the pitch and that’s the most important thing at the moment.”

* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report and best action images from Dundee United v Celtic at Tannadice this evening – only in your champion CQN.

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