Club Focus – Manchester City – Lack of Hart threatens City’s Champions League push

Shay Given’s dislocated shoulder and Joe Hart’s loan agreement with Birmingham City have left Roberto Mancini with a selection quandary between the sticks. With Stuart Taylor – the regular back-up to Given – out with a knee injury, the Manchester City boss will be forced to turn to an inexperienced pair of hands if dispensation is not granted by the Premier League for an emergency loan signing to be made.

Sunderland’s Martin Fulop is understood to be Mancini’s target for a brief spell at Eastlands, with the Hungarian falling out of favour at the Stadium of Light since Craig Gordon returned to fitness. As it stands, 23-year-old Gunnar Nielsen is City’s only available goalkeeper with any semblance of first team experience – the Faroe Islands international has played five games for Wrexham and twice for his country – having spent two years at Blackburn Rovers before following Mark Hughes to the City of Manchester Stadium. A Columbian by the name of David Gonzalez is also on City’s books – and also unavailable through injury, leaving just Nielsen and 16-year-old German Loris Karius to wear the gloves for the rest of the season. With Champions League qualification resting on the results of the next three City games, the question of what would happen should Nielsen suffer the same fate as his fellow custodians means another goalkeeper is needed and fast. There is also the concern of blooding an untried goalkeeper in such crucial fixtures – although that will take less precedence in the Premier League’s thinking when they decide whether to give the green light on not, most likely on Tuesday.

There has been much debate over whether it is fair to allow City to make an emergency loan signing in the aftermath of Given’s injury. With Nielsen available, City do have a goalkeeper left standing and there are those who feel City are not in an emergency situation and therefore such a request should be denied. There is some merit to this – the definition of when an emergency loan can be granted is somewhat unclear – but it is important to take into account the position City are seeking to fill. Losing a string of goalkeepers is not like suffering a shortage of defenders, for example – a midfielder can drop into the back four for a handful of games and perform adequately – something that cannot happen between the posts. Injuries to goalkeepers have to be treated differently than injuries to outfield players because there is no way a player from another position can cover for the No.1. A full-back can slot into central defence, a midfielder can act as a makeshift striker – but goalkeeping is so much more of a specialist position that there is no other option when the numbers are dwindling to dangerously low levels. The most vocal of complainants may come from Anfield, Villa Park and White Hart Lane respectively – if Fulop – should his move to Eastlands be ratified – was to make a number of match-saving stops – potentially against both Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur, who have to go to Manchester before the end of the season – will either Martin O’Neill or Harry Redknapp be understanding of City’s plight?

The decision not to include a recall clause in Hart’s loan deal with Birmingham must now feel like a major blunder by whoever sanctioned the move – although they can hardly be expected to predict City would be in dire need of an experienced goalkeeper as the season drew to a close, but it should be standard procedure. With Given possibly out until October, Hart’s chances of remaining at St. Andrews’ may have just shortened greatly – goalkeeper was one of the few positions City were not looking to add to over the summer and so when the England international’s loan in the second city ends, he may not be allowed to leave again. Even when Given’s shoulder has healed, it will take him a few weeks to return to match-sharpness, meaning he could be looking at as late as November or December to be ready to return – giving Hart ample opportunity to cement his place in the side. Hart, who sent a message of support to Given on Saturday evening, may one day look back on the Irishman’s injury as the window of opportunity in his City career.

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